RAVENS by George Dawes Green

Book Quote:

“Then Romeo said, ‘I can’t believe your family did that…own slaves.’”

“She shrugged. ‘Oh. I guess. My great-great-grandfather or something. He was a Confederate major.’”

“Romeo was thoughtful. ‘But he wasn’t a bad guy, right? I mean, I guess his buddies were telling him, like don’t worry about it, owning slaves is cool. People believe anything their buddies tell them. That’s how you become a soldier. You say, these are my buddies, I love them, I trust them. Then you can kill left and right and turn into a f-cking troll of death, if you have to, and do it happily because it’s for your buddies. But it’s really all about love. Right?’”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie (JUL 10, 2009)

Shawn McBride and Romeo Zderko have been “friends” since they were in fifth grade, back in Ohio. Romeo was a sensitive kid and very needy. He desperately wanted to fit in, especially with the seemingly popular Shawn and his “club.” So-called club members had carved the letter “D” on their chests and rubbed gunpowder into the wounds to keep the mark from fading. Romeo was really impressed at the brotherly solidarity this represented to him. He approached Shawn and asked to join the club. Obviously the boys laughed and made fun of the loser. Soon afterwards, however, Shawn came up to the boy and asked, “Suppose there was a club. What would you be willing to do to get in?” When Romeo replied, “Anything,” Shawn acquired an”apostle.” This was probably the first time the budding psychopath got a real taste for how good it felt to dominate and control.

Fast-forward twenty-some years – both Shawn and Romeo have left their their “zombie jobs” in tech-support at Dayton Techworld. They hit the road in Romeo’s ’91 Tercel and plan to drive to Key West, sell the vehicle, hire out on fishing boats, and work their way to Trinidad, never to return. As far-out as this idea sounds, it is mild compared to the grandiose schemes Shawn will come up with over the course of the novel. And, naturally, Romeo will be manipulated into going along with every one of them.

As the duo hits southern Georgia, the car’s front tire begins to leak. They pull-off I-95 and stop at a convenience store to borrow a tire gauge and get something cold to drink. It is here they learn that a local family just won $318,000,000. in the MAX A MILLION JACKPOT.  And the winning ticket was bought at this very convenience store the day before.  Shawn is filled with rage when he hears the news. “Three hundred and eighteen million dollars thrown away on a family of South Georgia nothings!!”

The two men rent a room in a nearby motel. Shawn surfs the Net. The only information he is able to glean about the winners is that the husband/father owns a copier store in Brunswick, GA. With the help of Yellowbook and Google, he finds the family’s name and whereabouts. Mitch and Patsy Boatwright, their twenty-two year-old daughter Tara, and Jase, their eight year-old son, are about to regret their big win big time.

Patsy Boatwright is addicted to gin and tonics and buying lottery tickets. Tara stays away from home on Wednesday nights when the jackpot is announced. Naturally her mother always comes up with the wrong numbers. I mean, what are the odds?? Patsy becomes surly in her disappointment and always picks a fight. But last night’s jackpot announcement was extremely different from the thousands which preceded it. Patsy won. The family is told to keep the news a secret, for their own security, until an announcement is formally made – but big-mouth Jase tells his 3rd grade classmates. Bad luck! While the family giddily makes plans to spend their fortune, McBride and Zderko make plans of a different nature. The increasingly manic Shawn concocts a money-making scheme to get half the winnings. Romeo is bewildered. But his friend informs him that they have the opportunity to change, not only their lives, but the world. Shawn tell Romeo, “I need you to play a kind of role. Like what you’d call an “angel of vengeance.”

Shawn calls upon the Boatwrights, posing as a member of the Georgia Lottery Commission. When Mitch Boatwright asks the man to leave, Shawn pulls a gun and threatens to kill them all if they don’t cooperate. He tells the family, “If you oppose us in any way, I’ll kill the people you love” And where is Romeo? He has been assigned the task of driving around Brunswick, “the Wick,” surveilling the Boatwright’s family members and friends, from a local map on which Shawn has targeted points of interests. He and Shawn will communicate at specific times by cell phone and if Shawn is in trouble, or if he doesn’t answer the phone, Romeo is to proceed to kill everyone on the list. He is Shawn’s “enforcer,” his “dark servant.” Although Romeo is a kind-hearted, compassionate man, which he demonstrates again and again throughout Ravens, he is , simply, not the brightest bulb in the box. And, he is unable to say “no” to Shawn, his best buddie. There was only one time when he “lost it,” to protect his friend, but that was years ago and he has never repeated his violent actions since.

Shawn invents, with the help of the family he holds hostage, what seems to be a plausible story for claiming half of the winnings. They are all terrified into compliance. The family must be kept in constant fear, for themselves and their loved ones, if the plan is to work. Under so much pressure, all involved are close to snapping, especially Romeo, still driving in circles around the town. He cannot work up the anger to kill anyone and is definitely not a cold-blooded murderer. He would rather die, however, than have Shawn call him a coward and a traitor. He is the “cudgel that Shawn McBride is using to terrorize the Boatwrights.

Ravens is a taut psychological thriller. George Dawes Green is a master at building tension. I noticed that I was biting my nails about half-way through the book. Just as the reader thinks everything is about to blow-up, the author lifts his foot from the pedal, slightly…then he steps on the gas again. I was riveted by the original storyline and the well developed characters – some of whom are Really characters, especially Nell, the grandmother. There is humor here also, some much needed comic relief. The dialogue is excellent, especially the “texting” language used between Tara and her best friend.

This is Mr. Green’s third novel. His first The Caveman’s Valentine, published in 1994, won an Edgar Award for Best First Novel. The Juror was an instant NY Times bestseller and was made into a movie starring Demi Moore and Alec Baldwin. After using New York City as the setting for his first two books, the author returns to his Southern roots with this new work. I highly recommend this edge-of-the-seat thriller.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 46 readers
PUBLISHER: Grand Central Publishing (July 15, 2009)
REVIEWER: Jana L. Perskie
AMAZON PAGE: Ravens
AUTHOR WEBSITE: George Dawes Green
EXTRAS: Excerpt

PW interview with George Dawes Green

MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Our review of The Caveman’s Valentine

More taut psychological thrillers:

The Point of Fracture by Frank Turner Hollon

Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger

The Wall by Jeff Long

For the Dogs by Kevin Wignall

Bibliography:

Movies from books:

July 10, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Psychological Suspense, Thriller/Spy/Caper, US South, y Award Winning Author

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