John W. Howell’s new novel, My GRL, is a pleasantly different kind of thriller. The hero, John D. Cannon, lacks a few of the standard hero qualities that you might expect in a thriller novel. He doesn’t seek out danger. In fact, at one point, danger has to literally run him off the road and onto the beach to get his attention. Cannon is somewhat naive as well, especially when it comes to women. He takes them at face value, trusting them in spite of all the red flags they wave in his face. [Ahem, Mr. Cannon, when a woman tells you she had great fun infiltrating another company while pretending to be someone else, in effect, SPYING, you might want to put your trust in her on hold for a bit.] Cannon is also one of the most polite, respectful, and well-adjusted heroes I’ve ever met, and he’s a lawyer to boot! He also has a wry sense of humor which carried through the novel quite well. (Some of my favorite lines: “I get dressed and wait for the wheelchair which is the requisite mode of transport out of a hospital. (If you are still alive that is, if not, then it is a gurney.”; “I think he believes I have a good memory and no brains.”)
So what is John D. Cannon doing in a thriller novel? The reader gets to work on that out early on, since the opening scene involves Cannon getting knocked out and his lady friend murdered. Talk about being thrown into the cold, deep lake without a chance to get one’s toes wet! But the pace of My GRL is slower than most thrillers, much as once you get used to the cold water of the lake, you might float for awhile, ponder the clouds in the sky, drag your toes around the sandy bottom. Cannon takes some time to fully grasp the extent of the danger he is in: once released from the hospital, he attempts to go about his business, which is to enjoy a sabbatical from a law firm and entertain a possible future running a charter business on a rather large (65-foot) boat in the Gulf of Mexico. Much of the tension derives from Cannon butting heads with Police Chief Tranes who has no reason not to suspect Cannon of murder, but simply not enough reason to actually charge him.
Much of the action, the white-knuckled kind of action, occurs in the last third of the novel, when Cannon is kidnapped and forced to consort with the terrorists, the evil people whose goal is to blow up Cannon’s boat next to the Intrepid as it sits in the New York harbor, causing unimaginable death and destruction. And here is where Cannon’s right to be called a hero is most manifest. The man keeps his cool, constantly analyzing and triangulating his situation. He is a lawyer, after all; in the end, his analytical mind (and some physical stamina) is his only hope.
The downside to Cannon’s analytical mind is that he tended to go over the more mundane aspects of his life, step by step, a bit too much. I couldn’t tell how much of this was Cannon’s actual thought process, and how much might just be the author providing a transition from one scene to the next. I would argue that such transitions are not necessary, but they do provide some insight into Cannon. He is a very methodical man, someone not used to having his routine disturbed. Cannon had lived a rather charmed if uneventful life up to this point, and he was totally caught unaware. That he tries to wrest normality out of an abnormal situation makes sense and makes him very sympathetic.
I do have some nit-picking to make with the editing of the novel. While it is not uncommon to find typos even in bestsellers produced by one of the Big Five publishing houses, I was disappointed that the editors for My GRL allowed quite a few to slip through. For example, compliment and complement are two different words with very different meanings; yet, they are used interchangeably. This is reflection on the publisher, not the author, however. I only point this out because it is the publisher’s responsibility to ensure that nothing detracts from the author’s storytelling. I give kudos to John W. Howell for writing a story compelling enough to make me skip over these little bumps in the narrative.
This novel was more character-driven than what I’m used to reading in thrillers, and I really enjoyed that aspect of it. I like getting to know people. Plots are secondary, devices best used to move the character development along. And that is what I enjoyed most about My GRL: getting to know, to like, and to admire John D. Cannon. I’m looking forward to getting to know him better in the sequel to My GRL.