Book Review: The Contract

The Contract, by JM Gulvin, is the second book in the author’s John Q series of crime thrillers. You may read my review of the first one here. Set in 1960s America, the protagonist, John Quarrie, is a fearless and determined Texas Ranger. He is a modern day cowboy with a strong sense of justice for all, in a country still divided by race.

The book opens with a robbery at a gunstore in small town Texas. This leads to a shoot out and car chase. To save his own life, Quarrie takes down an assailant. When he investigates the perpetrators he finds another dead body with links to New Orleans. Flying there to follow up on one of his few leads, Quarrie becomes embroiled in a secretive plan that involves many in the state’s law enforcement agencies. He struggles to work out what is going on and why. His presence and the methods he employs while out of his juridiction are resented by many. Quarrie suspects he is being manipulated but does not know by whom. There is nobody he can trust.

Although the reader is offered snapshots of all those involved, the extent and reasons are only slowly revealed. There is a large cast of characters with a variety of links. I struggled at times to follow the numerous threads.

Having said that, this is a compelling read. The action remains tense throughout and is rarely predictable. The story is written in a voice that is original and engaging. There are links to historical events of the time and to a variety of conspiracy theories. Given today’s political situation, the attitudes of many of the characters is chilling.

The reveals at the end provide a good mix of the unexpected, some satisfying if a tad dodgy come-uppances, and a few loose ends in keeping with the story arc created. Quarrie gets things done the old style Texas way, which is not always appreciated. His methods do, however, provide an entertaining read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Faber and Faber.

This post is a stop on The Contract Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.

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Top 10 western/crime books and films that inspired The Long Count

JM Gulvin

Today I am delighted to be hosting a guest post by JM Gulvin, author of ‘The Long Count’. This book is the first in a new crime series featuring Texas Ranger John Quarrie. I review the book here.

As part of the blog tour, JM has provided a list of his top ten western/crime books and films that inspired The Long Count.

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10) IN THE ELECTRIC MIST WITH CONFEDERATE DEAD

The sixth book in the Dave Robichaux series, but the first James Lee Burke crime novel I read. Set in Louisiana it features the New Iberia detective on the trail of a serial killer, while a Hollywood film about the civil war evokes ghosts of the real dead. Not for everyone but the great thing about James Lee Burke is he’s never bound by what’s expected. He started life as a literary writer and, of course, it shows.

9) HORSEMAN, PASS BY

The book was written by Larry McMurtry, set in Texas in the fifties it deals with a dying ranch and a dying rancher. A tough but sensitive family story about the passing of one generation to the next, it was filmed in black and white as HUD, starring Paul Newman.

8) SHUTTER ISLAND

Perhaps a little far-fetched given one inmate is allowed the run of a mental asylum in 1950’s America, but brilliant just the same. The story of a man who killed his wife, he’s facing a lobotomy only we don’t know that and neither does he. Dennis Lehane wrote the book and Martin Scorsese made the movie.

7) THE HUNTER/POINT BLANK

The book was called THE HUNTER written in 1963 by Donald E. Westlake about a criminal called Walker seeking revenge on a fellow gang member who double crossed then shot him and left him for dead. It was filmed by John Boorman as POINT BLANK and starred Lee Marvin. Both the book and film are perfect examples of neo-noir. The film was remade later as PAYBACK starring Mel Gibson but it’s not a patch on the original.

6) LONESOME DOVE

This is a sprawling novel by Larry McMurtry. He’s a native of Texas and owns a bookshop in the small town of Archer City. It’s an epic western about the first cattle drive from the tiny town of Lonesone Dove, Texas all the way to Montana and features two of the best western characters ever created: Captains Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call of the Texas Rangers. It was filmed for TV starring Robert Duval and Tommy Lee Jones.

5) NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

This is one of those rare pieces where the book and movie are almost identical. The book is tough, brutal and uncompromising, as is the film. It’s depiction of how Texas was changing in the eighties is brilliant, a local man gets caught in a drugs war and suffers the consequences at the hands of one of the most ruthless assassins ever to grace a page.

Book by Cormac McCarthy – Film by Joel & Ethan Coen

4) THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD

The book was written by Ron Hansen and (as with “No Country”) book and film are pretty much the same. Hansen is a hugely underrated and immensely talented writer. The film stars Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck. Affleck’s performance as Bob Ford who shot Jesse James in the back when he was 34 years old, is astounding. One scene is worth the whole movie alone, where a fearful Garret Dellahunt encounters the vengeful Jesse. It reeks of unspoken fear. The voice over from Hugh Ross captures the atmosphere exactly and the cinematography by Roger Deakins is brilliant.

3) LONE STAR

No book only a film. Made in 1996, it’s set in a small town close to the Texas/Mexican border. Three stories all rolled into one, the main thread is the murderous exploits of an old sheriff called Buddy Deeds as discovered by the current sheriff, his son. The ending comes from nowhere and by the time it’s over you feel you’ve witnessed something very special indeed.

2) COOGANS’ BLUFF

A Clint Eastwood classic movie made in 1969 about a deputy sheriff from New Mexico who goes to New York to bring home suspect James Ringerman, only Ringerman gets away. A chase through the city, it’s simple but brilliant fare and if anyone wants to get an idea of how John Q might appear, look no further than this.

1) ALL THE PRETTY HORSES

The first novel I read by Cormac McCarthy. 1930’s Texas and a way of life is dying away. Two young cowboys leave Texas and go in search of that same life south of the border in Mexico. John Grady Cole and Lacey Rawlins, they cross the Rio Grande on horseback and what follows is a spectacular adventure, both beautiful and brutal. The book put McCarthy on the map at the age of 59. It’s a love story, an adventure, a coming of age; but it’s the sheer quality of the writing that will leave you breathless and wanting more.

They made a film starring Matt Damon but I’d avoid that altogether and just read the book. It’s followed by THE CROSSING which is arguably better but it was reading ALL THE PRETTY HORSES that set me on my way.

LONGCOUNT_blog   The Long Count

The Long Count is published by Faber & Faber and is available to buy now.

Book Review: The Long Count

The Long Count

The Long Count, by JM Gulvin, is the first in a new series of thrillers featuring Texan Ranger, John Q. The voice in the story telling is very much that of a modern day Texas Cowboy, laid back and fearless with a down to earth and gritty determination.

John Q is a veteran of the Korean War. He is famed for his gunslinging, for having the ability to draw and shoot before his adversary has time to pull the trigger on a threatening weapon. He is also a widower and loving father, a loyal friend who calmly counters the racism inherent in his state by deeds more than words.

Set in the 1960s, when Americans were starting to protest their involvement in the Vietnam War, the book opens with a vicious assault at a lonely railway station. John Q is enjoying a sunny Memorial Day by the river with his friend, Pious, and son, James. They make a gruesome discovery but before this can be dealt with John Q is called across state to investigate the railway station attack.

The assailant is making his way elsewhere, calmly removing those who get in his way. John Q is soon on his tail but with no apparent motive can only follow the bodies left in the attacker’s wake.

Due to proximity, the ranger is first to respond when an apparent suicide is called in. The local law enforcement officers declare it an open and shut case but John Q has other views. When the suicide’s son, Isaac, hears this he gets in touch. Isaac cannot believe that his father, a commensurate soldier from a family of valiant fighters, would ever take his own life.

Isaac tells John Q that he has just returned from his third tour of duty in Vietnam. Not only has he to cope with his father’s death but also the disappearance of his twin brother, Ishmael, who is unaccounted for following a devastating fire at the Trinity Asylum where he was being held. It emerges that Ishmael was the victim of ill conceived treatment by the recently appointed psychiatrist at this institution, but the doctor is determined to carry out his own investigations rather than allow the police to become involved.

The plot twists and turns as links between these events emerge. John Q remains one step behind the killer as the body count rises. An agitated Isaac takes matters into his own hands.

A skilfully written thriller although I did find the teasing out of the denouement a little overdone. I understand the desire to provide a concluding twist, and I had not guessed every detail. My impatience with the number of cliffhanger chapter endings before the final reveal coloured my satisfaction, neat though the ending was.

This is still a worthwhile read. The Texan voice is authentic and adds a welcome variation to the thriller genre. John Q is a fine creation and I will be looking out for the next book in this series.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Faber and Faber.