Fresh Meat: Lake Country by Sean Doolittle

Lake Country by Sean Doolittle
Lake Country by Sean Doolittle
Lake Country by Sean Doolittle is a thriller featuring an ex-soldier out for revenge (available July 31, 2012).

Five years ago, successful architect Wade Benson killed a young woman when he fell asleep at the wheel. His punishment: two days in jail for every year of his probation. But for one friend of the victim’s family—an ex-marine named Darryl Potter—this punishment isn’t enough. Potter sets out to even the score by kidnapping Benson’s twenty-year-old daughter. It’s a bad, bad plan, and only Mike Barlowe, Potter’s former combat buddy, knows how to stop it. With a beautiful news reporter, the cops, and a bounty hunter on Potter’s tail, Barlowe races to head off his troubled friend before innocent people get hurt. The hunters and the hunted plunge north into Minnesota’s Lake Country, each with their own ambitions and demons, each headed for a violent collisionand for one horrifying moment of life or death.

What I mostly liked about this book, I must admit, is its size. What do I mean by that? I mean that the author did a great job working on the economy of the novel. There’s not a single word out of place here, there are not too many subplots to make it a doorstopper, and thus less enjoyable, and there are no wild stretches of the imagination in order to surprise the reader. All Sean Doolittle seems to want to do is tell a story, and that he does well.

Two of the main characters in this novel are ex-soldiers, survivors of the war in Iraq, and each one of them carries his own psychological baggage.

Darryl Potter is a troubled young man who’s seen his fair share of war and bloodshed and who always manages, in one way or another, to get into trouble. He hates the way his life turned out, he hates that the justice system doesn’t provide justice when it comes to the rich and powerful, he hates the fact that he wasn’t able to save the life of one of his army comrades, and he feels guilty about what happened afterwards to that man’s family. He almost hates everything and everyone. His day-to-day life bathes in misery and now, more than ever, he’s determined to do something to change it, even if that means taking the law into his own hands.

Mike Barlowe though, his brother in arms, doesn’t seem to hate anyone. He just feels kind of sad about his life and he tries to relieve his psychological and bodily pain, since he carries a serious wound on the knee, by drinking alcohol and taking scores of painkillers. What a life, one would say. What a life!

Post-traumatic stress disorder. If that’s what they called insomnia, night terrors, mood swings, depression, and the inability to tolerate other human beings, then Mike guessed it was what he had. They had programs through the VA center and for a while he tried going in, but it all seemed like a bunch of bullshit, so he stopped. Whiskey worked better than the pills they gave anyway, and after a couple of years the nightmares tapered off on their own. Life went on.

Yes, life went on, but barely so, as:

Five years, he kept thinking: that was all that stood between the Marine he saw in the picture and the sad sack he saw looking back at him from the dresser mirror on the other side of the room. Mike confronted his own reflection: a blotchy, stubbled wreck, sitting on the edge of an unmade bed, with a photograph in his hand. That’s you, he thought.

We meet a lot of human wrecks in this story; people who have lost everything in an accident, or during the war, or at a moment of pure madness. Even though some of the protagonists seem to lead quiet and peaceful lives that is not really the case. They’ve also harmed some people and have been harmed by others. They’ve also suffered, or still suffer loss, sadness, loneliness. Actually when it comes to it I would say that none of these people seems to belong to this world anymore. They can only be grateful for what they have and that’s what keeps them going: a job, a family, a very good friend who’ll stand by their side no matter what, a purpose that could prove misguided, but that at the same time will give them the opportunity to face their inner demons.

The author is not very kind with his heroes. They are all full of faults, full of out-of-control passions, even full of themselves. But maybe that’s exactly what makes this book so special. It talks about people who could be living right next door to us, or maybe down the street; people who meet once a year to celebrate a life and mourn a death; people who sit at a dark corner of a bar where they desperately try to hide their fears away.

If you like adventures you’ll get some here; if you like mysteries, not so much; if you love police procedurals, well, this could work for you; but it would be better if while reading it you just let yourself go, and enjoy the ride. It may be a bleak ride in a way, but it’s a great one nevertheless.

Lakis Fourouklas has published four novels and three short-story collections in Greek. He’s currently translating his work into English and blogs at Fiction & More. He also keeps a few blogs in Greek regarding general fiction, Japanese Literature, and Crime Fiction. Follow him on Twitter: @lakisf.  He lives in the wilderness of Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Read all posts by Lakis Fourouklas for Criminal Element.

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