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BWW Reviews: BLACKBIRD Doesn't Quite Soar

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The best thing about Blackbird, Tom Wright's second novel featuring a character named Jim Bonham (who almost nobody calls Jim), is the cover design, which is spare, evocative, compelling. Nothing's wasted there.

The story itself doesn't really follow through on that promise. It has some interesting elements, but it's a tad overstuffed and doesn't really add anything new to a pretty tired approach.

Bonham, now grown up to be a police detective in Traverton, Texas, is a sort of standard entry in the modern noir category: prone to angst, liberal-minded (but as law-and-order tough on criminals as any actual southern lawman!), trying to hold the line between the family and town he's sworn to protect and the savages at the gate, who (gasp!) turn out to have been let in by somebody near and dear to the lawman's heart but who just went a little off the rails.

There is plenty of the gruesome stuff that audiences ensconced in modern, middle class security, don't seem to be able to get enough of these days (would that we were still so enamored of clever plots and sharp dialogue). The main theme here is crucifixion--and there is some genuinely interesting detail on the actual practice in ancient times, though it might have been more fun to learn about it on the History Channel. Since this sort of thing now pervades television, movies, video games and, yes, novels, I'm not even sure what it would take, anymore, for a story that features--in addition to the crucifixion at its center--sex clubs, genital mutilation and skinheads to cross over from diverting (which Blackbird is at least part of the time) to arresting (which is never approaches).

What I can say, with some assurance, is that it would take more than what Wright offers here. The story is a tad perfunctory, though at least we are spared the presence of a criminal mastermind behind it all. When the denouement comes, the perpetrator turns out to have pretty mundane motives and seems to have never really hoped to get away with it after all. Nothing new on that count, in other words.

To be fair, Blackbird is more character study than detective story, and it does show some promise in that direction. Unfortunately, as usually happens in a genre novel, there isn't enough space to do any of the characters--even Bonham himself--full justice. So the reader is left with sketches, some more in depth than others, none especially original. The only character I found particularly entertaining was a black female detective named Mouncey. If Wright plans to stay with these characters for future novels, I hope he'll give her more time--or, better yet, just make the next book about her.

I'm probably being a little too hard on Blackbird. I didn't come away from it thinking I had wasted a piece of my life or anything. What it does, it does reasonably well. But, I can only recommend it to those who can't get enough of the familiar.


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From This Author John Walker Ross

John Walker Ross is a graduate of Florida State and lives somewhere in the Florida Panhandle where he has variously toiled in advertising and legal (read more...)