Thursday, March 13, 2014

Light Shining in the Forest by Paul Torday

Review based on ARC.

This was my first Torday, and (1) I will definitely read more! and (2) I'm sad he's (apparently recently) deceased, so what's out there is what's out there!

So, as my first Torday, and having read a handful of other reviews on this book, I understand that this one is not "standard Torday" -- most of his novels are funny, I think.

This one is not remotely funny.  I don't mean to say there are no moments of humor -- those definitely exist, particularly dark humor in his analysis of civil servants in Britain, but it's not a funny book.  The book is not a satire.

Torday manages to work mystery, thriller, drama, a touch of romance, lite-horror, psychological thriller, and spiritual all into about 340 pages.  And well.  It is almost an everyman type of story, an analysis of faith and how most people these days respond to the potential for spiritual involvement in our lives.  Torday has been criticized by some of his fans for delving into the spiritual, but he did SUCH a good job of evaluating the various perspectives his everyman characters can have to the potential of divine involvement that, really, it makes those reviews just sound defensive in nature.  Torday definitely does not shove religion down everyone's throat and, in fact, his characters are such that there is an acknowledgement that most people ridicule those with strong faith.  This is a truth that was well explored in Torday's novel.

And yeah, now that I'm writing all this out, it sounds kind of boring. It is NOT boring.  It's a well-paced psychological thriller, mystery, evaluation of society and spirituality without being preachy... Just very well done.

So what's it about?  Remembering that this is an everyman take, there's (and these are my descriptions -- he just named the characters :)): The Civil Servant (Norman), The Young Semi-Ambitious Lazy Investigative Journalist with Big Ideas (Willie), The Smart Cute Assistant Who's More than Meets the Eye (Pippa), and then there are a handful of equally important characters who I won't define because this book is *definitely* one of those books that is better to discover while being read.

Norman has spent a life in civil servantry, working his way into more and more powerful positions, and has finally been promoted to Children's Czar in a small'ish town.  However, once he's appointed, the job comes to a standstill and Norman is left with a lot of time on his hands.  Lo and behold, a few months into his stalled Czarship, young aggressive and annoying Willie, trying to make a journalistic career for himself so he can get out of said small'ish town, confronts Norman with the existence of two missing children, and just WHAT, Willie wants to know, is the Czar going to do about the missing children?  The Czar position is not meant to be a hands-on type of job, and Norman is initially reluctant.  However, events proceed, family members are met and conversations are had, and his pushy smart little assistant Pippa gets involved... HOW are we going to save the children?  When a third child goes missing, there's no stopping the newly created team as they rush time to try to find the Children before they suffer any longer.

It's an interestingly paced novel... It starts off quite slow -- descriptive and scenic.  It never becomes a rush from one adrenaline-packed scene to the next, but Torday writes a story and establishes characters that invest the reader in the story... And once you are invested in the story, well it's just hard to put it back down.  It moves and you, the reader starts to rush... You must read more quickly... you must save the children!  The physical undercurrent is palpable.  There are so many elements involved (discussed above), and the characters, serving their everyman purpose, are engaging and well crafted.

It's hard to review this book because it was so good, so worth an involved review, but SO the kind of book that shouldn't be ruined by reviews.  Definitely recommended to open-minded thinkers, to people looking for a smarter mystery, for those who consider the possibility of "Maybes".

And, despite the fact that this was an unusual-for-Torday novel, I look forward to reading more of his writing.

FOUR AND A HALF of five stars.

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