Sunday, 19 October 2014

"Black's Creek" by Sam Millar.

Many thanks to Brandon/O'Brien Press for sending me a review copy of this title.  I have been asked to review it for DundalkFM, early November. 

A small town in upstate New York, Black's Creek is about to be hit by tragedy.  For a group of teenage boys in the 1970s, there's not much else to do but hang around, discussing comic books, TV shows and swim in the forbidden Jackson's Lake.  Three best friends, a day they will never forget and a blood oath taken.  The bravado they feel leads them to believe in their abilities to bring justice to the sleepy town, despite the Sheriff being close to home.  Sometimes the answers to problems seem so obvious, but can teenagers make informed decisions without some kind of guidance?

This multi-layered book is more than just a crime noir.  It is a story of friendship, idealism, innocence and trust.  Tommy, Brent and Horseshoe are witness to a traumatic event and it shakes them up badly.  The police force have their hands tied up in the legal tangles that a teenager cannot understand.  When Brent suggests they take the law into their own hands, even drawing blood for a blood oath, the boys become connected in a world of deceit.   Tommy's father is the town Sheriff and the town folk look up to him, calling to the house at all hours of day and night, with their woes.  Tommy adores his father and all he represents.  But when he snoops around in his fathers office he finds a diary containing the mans innermost thoughts.  Suddenly the Sheriff becomes less hero and more human.  The boys plan doesn't end the way they expected and their friendship is tested.  But when the body of a young girl is found, the town looks to the Sheriff  to find the culprit.  Tommy wills his father on, while learning to deal with his own grief.

Sam Millar has written a novel of deep and intense feeling.  The boys are young and innocent but each has their own individual personality, and very different sets of parents. The horror they have witnessed has changed them for ever and they will always feel that invisible bond.  The writing style has echoes of Huckleberry Finn, Stand By Me and other wonderful coming of age novels.  However, the book that kept coming back to me, as I read Black's Creek, was To Kill A Mockingbird.  The character of Sheriff Hendersen has ideals and values that are similar to Atticus Finch, and his son completely trusts him, looks at him with adoration and learns from him in many ways.  Not flawless, Tommy's father is a balance to his wife, who is a non-stop nit picker who has Tommy's heart broken with well intentioned nagging.  The overall atmosphere in the Sheriffs house is one of logic and love.  Tommy is a genuinely good kid, with a big heart and feels a need to put the world to rights.  His friends, Brent and Horseshoe are also harmless kids who are trying to grow up at different rates and are finding themselves on a daily basis.  

There are lessons to be learned for each character in this book.  The narrative is strong, a town weighed down by grief and the uncertainty of how it will cope under pressure,  also very similar to Harper Lee's classic novel.  What Sam Millar has done, though, is bring the story to the forefront, allowing the adolescent protagonist lead, but not take over completely.  A clever way of hooking the reader from the start.  I would challenge anyone not to devour this book in one or two sittings, and I can confidently say that this is a novel like no other I have read in contemporary crime fiction.  It is a story of a boy, a dark summer and a harsh introduction to adulthood.  Pure Gold.


Award-winning writer Sam Millar is the author of The Darkness of Bones, Dark Souls and The Redemption Factory, as well as the popular series featuring PI Karl Kane: Blood Storm, The Dark Place and Dead of Winter. His memoir, On the Brinks, was originally published in 2003. He has also written a critically acclaimed stage play, Brothers in Arms. He has received several awards for his writing including the Aisling Award for Art and Culture, and most recently, the prestigious Golden Balais d’or (France) for Best Crime Book for On the Brinks. On the Brinks was also named one of Le Monde’s Top Twenty Thrillers of 2013.

Black's Creek is published by Brandon/O'Brien Press and is available in paperback and ebook format.

You can hear my review on DundalkFM on 5th November at 7pm

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