Friday, September 2, 2016

Straw Man by Gerry Boyle

First sentence: The sun slipped behind the ridgetop to the West, the woods darkening at midday like Waldo County, Maine, was Alaska in winter.

 Reporter Jack McMorrow has a lot on his plate; perhaps too much. A story he is writing about private gun sales becomes much more complex than he anticipated, and results in a death. Joining his friends Claire and Lewis in doing a good deed for a neighbor results in a vicious stalker targeting his wife and child. Can Jack be who he is and not destroy his marriage?

What a perfect first chapter. Not only do we meet the primary characters of Jack, Lewis, and Claire, but we know what kind of men they are, a bit about their background, and what motivates them to take the action they do. No time is wasted, but readers are immediately taken into danger and high action, which is quickly contrasted by a light moment of our protagonist correcting the grammar on a sign. Claire, in particular, is the kind of friend one would like to have, but whose skills one would hope never to need—“I'm all for pacifism,” Claire said. “but I'm not going to die for it.” Lewis, a Marine veteran, is emotionally scarred by his time in Afghanistan and trying to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, yet he is written with sympathy and understanding which makes him very real.

All the characters are real and recognizable. It's nice to see a married couple whose relationship is not perfect and yet one for which we can root. Boyle is very good at presenting the conflict in a relationship; the insecurities, the differences between attitudes and viewpoints the lack of communication at times, the desire of two very different people to find a common ground, and to not let jealousy destroy a relationship.

The topic of the book couldn't be more timely. We learn fascinating information on the older order of Mennonites which adds depth to the story. Boyle is excellent at creating seemingly separate threads and tying them together neatly maximizing the tension; Sam Abrams the young Mennonite, the three thugs, private gun sales, and the violence of man.

The story provides us an interesting moral dilemma; when you know there's something bad and yet you know trying to work through the system won't really be productive and could do more harm to those who are innocent than good, is it morally right to take justice into your own hands. It is a very difficult question to ask, and even harder to answer. He is also represents an ethical dilemma--"I figured he'd been buying guns. For the two guys you busted." "Were you planning on telling anyone about this?" O'Day ask. "I was going to tell thousands of people," I said. "When I wrote about it." "And in the meantime, how many people get killed with those guns?"

The way in which Boyle employs his daughter and her friend adds a wonderful balance to the story. It's nice to be reminded that there are people who believe—“it's the principle." "People don't do stuff like this out of principle." " I do," I said. "and my friends do, too." And what a classic line--"Non violence," I said. "It isn't for the faint of heart."

Straw Man” is one very good story; engrossing and exciting, yet filled with things that make you think. Don't be surprised to find yourself looking each year for Boyle's newest book. He tends to be a must-read author.

Straw Man (Unl Inv/Journ-JackMcMorrow-Maine-Cont) - VG
          Boyle, Gerry – 11th in series
          Islandport Press- May 2016


  1. Non-violence is not for the faint of heart!

  2. Great review! I will share, and hope others will go buy a copy of 'Straw Man'. Gerry always makes us think!