Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Book Review: 'Shady Cross' by James Hankins

Massachusetts author James Hankins is not only a movie star handsome man he is also a highly successful and honored writer. In addition to these skills he has been active as a lawyer (receiving his degree from University of Connecticut School of Law), was in health administration and embraced screenwriting. Attending NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, he received the Chris Columbus Screenwriting Award. His four (to date) published books - SHADY CROSS, BROTHERS AND BONES, JACK OF SPADES, and DRAWN have been popular with the public and critics alike. As James states, `I write novels. They're all thrillers, with elements of other genres as well -- mystery, suspense, police procedural, paranormal/supernatural. I try to write books that make you want to read one more page before turning out the light . . . and then another, and, well, maybe just one more . . . ` James lives with his wife and twin sons just north of Boston.

James Hankins is a name already established but soon to be tattooed on the signpost as one of America's most significant writers in his chosen genre of Thrillers. Where he comes up with the off beat characters that should not be immediately appealing and takes us through a transformative acquaintance by the end of his book where we are committed fans is a gift. And he accomplishes this in a conversational tone that seduces us into the darkness of a place we otherwise would avoid - that old urgency to see what is in a darkened deserted cellar that hasn't seen a light source for years.

A `for instance', in introducing his main character he opens his book with this: `"You just got out of jail? Seriously?" Stokes heard nothing but curiosity in the guy's voice. No judgment, no fear, just curiosity and maybe a little slur from the alcohol. "Didn't say I was in jail," Stokes said. He took a sip of Budweiser and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, the one that held the bottle. "Said I was at the jail. They had me in for questioning. No big deal." The guy looked at him in drunk-eyed wonder, like he was a rare species of lizard. "Wow. In jail." He took a sip of his manhattan. "I guess you must not have done whatever they thought you did, though, or they wouldn't have let you go." Stokes knew it didn't always work like that, but why get into it? "Like I said, no big deal." He looked at the guy's tailored suit again, the suit that had led Stokes to the bar stool next to him in the first place. "So what's your deal?"
"Tom." "What?" "My name's Tom," the guy said. Stokes nodded, waited for an answer to his question, didn't get it, so he asked again, "So what's your deal, Tom? You from Shady Cross?" "What's Shady Cross?" Stokes smiled amiably. "This little city you're in." "Shady Cross?" the guy repeated as if he'd never heard of the place, like a few drinks had erased the name from his mind. "They say it was built up a long time ago around the crossroads at the center of town," Stokes said. "Used to be shady, I guess...." And so we get the flavor that leads into the story. Oh, Stokes robs Tom, by the way.

The author's summary is terse: `In one hand, small-time crook Stokes holds a backpack stuffed with someone else's money--three hundred and fifty thousand dollars of it. In the other hand, Stokes has a cell phone, which he found with the money. On the line, a little girl he doesn't know asks, "Daddy? Are you coming to get me? They say if you give them money they'll let you take me home." SHADY CROSS is the story of an unscrupulous man torn between his survival instincts and the plight of a true innocent. Faced with the choice, Stokes discovers his conscience might not be as corroded as he thought.'

Defining what makes James' writing so fine is a tough task - reading him is a better approach than critiquing him. But this book is such a perfect craft that it makes us eager to jump into another one - soon. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, July 15

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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