By March 29, 2006 4 Comments Read More →

Blood Trail, Volume Two

Most of the books we review arrive as Advance Readers’ Copies (ARCs), which are basically paperback versions of the final book that have yet to be proofread. Some ARCs have glossy covers with the art that will be on the finished book, and some have plain cardstock covers with a few salient pieces of information.

And then there are bound and unbound galleys, 81/2 x 11″ sheets that are sometimes held together with plastic comb bindings from Kinko’s, sometimes gathered together with a flimsy rubber band. Sometimes punishing schedules make it hard for publishers to provide us with an ARC (we review in advance of the book’s publication, so we ask that all materials reach us at least 15 weeks beforehand), and sometimes small publishers don’t have the resources to print up a really nice ARC.

I’m sympathetic. And I would never be so petty as to allow such a pedestrian consideration to taint my opinion of a book. But I sometimes wonder if there are any reviewers out there who find themselves irked with a book they’re reviewing because the publisher has effectively forced them to carry ten pounds of paper in their shoulder bag….

Anyway, last night I made it to the halfway point of Blood Trail. I know this because I was able to set the first bound galley aside (thunk) and pick up the next one (grunt). (Note to Dennis McMillan, publisher of Gary J. Cook’s book: double-sided pages make the thing half as heavy.)

Anyway, I think I’m liking it more. I still feel that Cook could have trimmed some of the talky dialogue scenes, but when Ben Tails is in action-back in Vietnam, he was a sniper known as “Mr. Slide,” and last night I read a flashback sequence that was riveting-the book is unputdownable (a word I’ll use in this blog but probably not in print).

Writing regular updates like this, I find myself tempted to give plot updates, but I want to avoid spoilers, too. Tails is a guy torn between past and present, between his dark side and his decent self, who’s manipulated by forces he’s struggling to comprehend (government agencies, gangsters, etc.)…put that way it sounds pretty cliche. But plot doesn’t make a good book, good writing does. Cook is in no hurry as he explores the mind of his protagonist and reflects on cultural differences, and slowly builds a case against the way the machinery of war deforms impressionable young men.

But, as with most novels that condemn violence, the violence is still exciting, which is the way most of us like it-even if we hate to admit it.

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is the editor of Booklist Online and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix.