I received a request to review this book by the author Michael Cargill, it is a collection of three short stories; Shades of Grey, There and Back Again, and Down the Rabbit Hole.
John is not a very nice man. He works for the government. So who has tied him to a chair and what do they want? James is a British soldier during WWII. Tom is a young boy with a terrible secret.
Three stories. Three very different people. All of them battling to survive.
Shades of Grey
This story focuses on John, a man that works for the government. One day he finds himself tied to a chair in an interrogation room. He doesn’t know why he’s there or what they want, but he does know one thing; he’s not talking. As his interrogators try to coax information out of him he fades in and out of consciousness and reminisces on his life. Will he find a way to escape? Does he even want to?
I really enjoyed this story because I felt it was very original, I have never read anything with a setup quite like it. This short story is split into two: when John is focusing on the present, and when he is remembering the past. I thought this was done well, especially the transition between the two. Cargill would have his character focusing on an object, and in turn this would trigger a memory, and I really liked this technique. However I feel like perhaps the transition could have been smoother if the author had chosen to write this story in the first person tense.
I also enjoyed the honest exploration of what may go through a man’s head when tied to a chair, and there were some good one liners in there, for example “John would watch with a combination of humor and anticipation, just waiting for that Kodak moment.” I also loved the juxtaposition at the start, it begins with the suggestion that everything is normal, but then Cargill snaps the reader back, and we realize that it is not in fact an ordinary day, and that this man is in a life threatening situation.
The characterization was also good. We are quickly given an impression of John’s personality from the very first page. And although he is portrayed as a quite hard/unapproachable guy, we are also given small insights into the fact that he is driven by emotion too which makes him more relatable.
There and Back Again
James is a soldier during World War II working along the French border. This story follows his journey through a confusing battle against the French. He soon becomes friends with a man named David and together they traverse the difficulties of a soldiers life; coping with harsh conditions, missing relatives, and trying to come to terms with murdering men.
I felt that There and Back Again (hehe, every time I read that The Hobbit flashes into my mind) was the best technically written story in the book compared to the others. I’m not quite sure why, but I felt it just had a better flow. It may be because this story had less internal dialogue in it, whereas the other two had quite a lot, and although I enjoyed this aspect, I think maybe the transition between the two was a little rough around the edges.
I have to admit, There and Back Again was my least favorite story of the three, even though it was the best written. I felt like it lacked plot somewhat compared to the others, but this may just be because I am not a big war story fan. I also felt like it had the least conclusive ending, I almost think that the story needed to be continued, perhaps it could even have been expanded into it’s own book so that the plot could develop more. However, I did still enjoy many of the scenes in it, largely because of Cargill’s wit and sense of humor. I enjoyed the battle scenes as well.
The characterization also needed some extra work. I found that I wasn’t as interested in the people in this story, and didn’t think they were developed as fully. James’ personality seemed very similar to the character John from the first story, only not quite as interesting. I didn’t take to the character of David either, although perhaps I wasn’t supposed to. That being said, the author manages to use his characters as a portal into the harsh life of war very well.
Down the Rabbit Hole
Tom is a meek, sweet little boy, with a loving mother but an abusive dad, who constantly terrifies him. His mother however, is too scared to leave him.
One day when shopping, Tom spots a toy bunny rabbit that he wants desperately, and in an act of rebellion his mother decides to use the precious little money they have, and buy it. Tom names the rabbit Borger and they instantly become inseparable. However, it’s not long before Tom realizes Borger isn’t any ordinary toy, and events start to take a sinister turn.…
This was actually my favorite story of the three, even though it had quite a few typos and probably is the more unoriginal (think Chucky but with a toy bunny rabbit). And yet…I just enjoyed it more. I felt that it was the most well rounded in terms of plot and pace. It started quite slowly with a few sinister undertones, and then steadily built into a dramatic ending, and I’ve always been a sucker for a story that sweeps you up. I loved how each of the events that slowly unturned were unexpected, and I was spurred to read on because I wanted to know how the story was going to end. Would Borger be found out? Would Tom throw him away? Would it all go one step too far and end in disaster?
I thought the characterization in this story was good too. Cargill manages to capture Tom’s childhood innocence, as well as his simplified emotions and desires to be naughty. The mother was also portrayed with more strength than is often seen in females in abusive relationships, which was really good to see.
To improve this story though I would have liked to of seen it taken a few steps further. It could have explained how the mother managed to get into the abusive relationship. Was Tom’s father always like this? Or did something cause it? I also would have liked more back story on the toy rabbit. How did it become evil? Was it some kind of magic? Voodoo? Trapped soul? Or was it all a figment of Tom’s imagination as a result of the abuse and/or a coping mechanism to deal with it by using the toy as an excuse to lash out violently?
Although I enjoyed these stories, unfortunately I can’t justify giving it more than three stars because of issues with a few of the basics. I am the last person to be correcting people’s spelling, because mine in terrible (Spell check, I love you!) but even I noticed a few spelling, and grammatical issues, and they are probably just down to typos, which is very easily done! Some of the dialogue was also a little strained for instance “I am not hungry” and “Leave your bowl on the side when you have finished”. This would work perfectly well as descriptive writing, but for dialogue it often resulted in quite jarring reading, and would have worked much better shortened (you’ve, and I’m rather than you have) as people often don’t speak in perfect English when talking and tend to abbreviate. I don’t know if this is an official/unofficial rule in writing, and I have never really thought about it until now, but something about it just didn’t sit quite right.
However this book is still worth checking out, and I will be interested to see what Michael Cargill writes in the future!
I would recommend this book to fans of the war, crime, or thriller genre’s as I think this book would appeal to them the most. It probably has a slightly more male leaning but is definitely still an enjoyable read for females. I would recommend it for ages 16+
Also, if you haven’t already, don’t forget to check out my Interview and giveaway with Michael where you have a chance to win your own copy of Shades of Grey for free! Pretty neat huh? 🙂
Writing Style: 2/5
Character Development: 3/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes
Shades of Grey book cover: http://michaelcargill.wordpress.com/my-books/
Evil Teddy: http://images.elfwood.com/art/j/o/johnshadow/killerteddy2.jpg