Ravens by George Dawes Green

April 16, 2010
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George Dawes Green’s returns to fiction after well over a decade with Ravens, one of the most page-turning-tastic books I’ve read in a long time.  But as much as I enjoyed a good deal of the ride, I can’t help but bitch about Green’s unwillingness to take a nasty premise to the true extremes it initially promises.

And it’s a great fucking premise, dear reader.

Romeo and Shaw, two Ohio tech support guys, are headed for a Florida vacation when Shaw overhears at a gas station in rural Georgia that a local family has just won the state lottery – $318 million dollars before taxes.  By going on facebook and google maps, Shaw finds out what he needs to know about the Boatwrights and comes up with an awesome plan.  Shaw will stay with the family until they collect the check, while Romeo will be driving around town making regular stops outside the houses of numerous local Boatwright family members and friends.  If Shaw doesn’t call at his scheduled time, Romeo will kill whoever he is nearest to.  If the Boatwrights resist Shaw in any way, he will call Romeo and have him, again, kill whoever he is nearest to.

It’s a great idea for a story and the characters, prose and deft plotting make it read like fucking gangbusters.  Thing is, Green doesn’t let this nasty premise get as intense or dark as it so obviously demands.  To make my point clear, I’m gonna have to spoil some shit big time.  It’s a fun read and I recommend it up to a point, so maybe come back to this review and see if we’re in agreement once you’ve finished it.  If a book not going full-dark when it is no-shit expected annoys you, go ahead and read on.

So heads up from here on out: MAJOR FUCKING SPOILAGE!

You have this awesome premise, this perfect opportunity for nerve-shattering intensity, and wouldn’t you know it: no innocent person in the whole fucking book gets killed.  And it’s not like Green hints at this book being a pussing-out-fest, either.  Something about the writing made me believe that yes indeed, there were going to be consequences – but nope, sorry suckers!

Granted, you could make a good argument for why no such thing happens.  For one, the book ends up being about this crazy stockholm syndrome shit that happens once the Boatwrights and Shaw are hunkered down together.  In addition to that, Shaw eventually becomes something of a messiah to the local media along the way as well, a role he plays so well that eventually even he himself starts to believe it.  That’s pretty a pretty interesting direction for the story to go, but come on – not one murder?  Fuck that shit.

Another rationale one could have is the knowledge that if Romeo kills even one person, at a certain point such an event would bring the whole scheme crashing to a halt before we ever got to a satisfying climax.  But though that may be, how do we not have even one innocent person die at the very end of the novel?  That just seems cheap and Hollywood-ish to me, another in a massive fucking myriad of examples of authors shitting on the natural conclusion to their story in hopes that more middle-of-the-road readers will recommend the book to their friends.

So though you could say that Green nearly writes himself out of having to actually kill someone on Romeo’s address list, it left your Nerd highly dissatisfied with the book.  If it wasn’t for that maddening, huge fucking dodge, this could have been the book that I’d press into every reader’s hands for years to come.

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Nerd of Noir

I love crime/noir fiction, comics and movies. I think my opinions are web-worthy. Then again, what asshole doesn't think that their opinions deserve a blog?

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3 Responses to Ravens by George Dawes Green

  1. Dave Zeltserman on April 17, 2010 at 11:17 am

    That’s too bad. From the pre-spoiler description I had visions of heads being cut off victims and brought back to the family so they could face the consequences of their greed.

  2. Nerd of Noir on April 17, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    For an example of a writer unafraid to take his premise to the dark extremes it demands to go, check out Pariah or Small Crimes by commenter number 1. I have yet to read it, but I doubt his latest, Killer (available May 1st), disappoints on that front either.

  3. Dave Zeltserman on April 19, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    I just want to make it clear that my comment was based solely on the pre-spoiler descriptions and the images that came to from reading this fantastic premise, and not on the actual book–since I haven’t read the book, I can’t comment at all on it.