Tuesday, April 16, 2013

One Broken Man's Journey to Save a Little Girl

First Paragraph:

"The man with the wild black beard walked down the hot, white sidewalk, slowly lifting up his old brown boots and then tentatively setting them down again as though he were not certain he wanted to move at all; sometimes he would stop, simply staring at the faded concrete, as if he were making up his mind whether to continue. His matted black hair hung over his forehead as his fiery eyes stared with a power that seemed to bore a hole clear through the heard cement."

The Searcher by Ray Dacolias stars Joaquin Bridger- a homeless man who is tormented by his past. The story starts off in Redwood, California, where we meet Joaquin as he wanders the same path he has taken for the last 5 years. He prays for agony and punishment. He wishes to die, but would consider that more of a blessing than he deserves. The villagers have nicknamed him 'El Buscar' or 'The Searcher', because he wanders with his head down, never looking up, as though he's looking for something.

But what caused this man to break? What thrust him down the dark hole to his never-ending torture?  His general story is this. Joaquin was part of the 110th Infantry Division. Then 15 years ago he settled in Redwood, becoming a police officer. One of the best. 5 years ago, an event occurred that turned him into the shell of a man he is today. There was a bank robbery. Two people were taken hostage as the robbers were escaping. Their car crashed and the police caught up to them. The car had flipped and the leader of the bandits had the hostages with him in the front. The police quickly surrounded the area and set up Joaquin for a shot at the leader (as Joaquin is an ace shot). The leader had completely covered himself and the two hostages with his coat, and threatened to kill both hostages if his demands weren't met. Joaquin had to take the shot, but before he could the leader shot one of the hostages. Joaquin quickly took a shot of his own, but as he fired the car slipped in the muddy ground and moved enough for his shot to go wide and hit the other hostage instead. Joaquin ran to the car, the leader threw out his gun and surrendered, but it was then that Joaquin discovered who the hostages were. His wife and daughter. The leader had killed his wife and he had killed his own daughter. It may have been an accident, he may not have been at fault, but the guilt and the grief broke him and turned him into the agonised man he now is.

Now 5 years later, events seem to be repeating. He happens to be standing outside the bank. Juanita Chavez (an old friend of his that offers him food whenever they happen to meet) is in town with her 4 children. She visits the bank and is on her way to her car when her youngest daughter, 9 year old Sylvia, realizes she's dropped her toy on the way and runs back to find it. Juanita runs to her as three men run out of the bank and grab her child. Another robbery is in progress and another hostage is taken as they make their escape. Joaquin briefly glimpses one of the men as they barge past him, and recognises the man who killed his family. Shock paralyses him and allows them enough time to get away with the child. Joaquin makes it his life mission to track down the man and bring back the child. He gives his word to Juanita. Her faith in him makes brief appearances throughout the book, as she and her family struggle to deal with the loss.

Along the way, Joaquin is helped by two men. Captain Ricardo Montoya, the chief of police in Redwood- who is an old friend of Joaquin and Supervisory Deputy United States Marshal Jacob Shipper, who is part of the investigation as the kidnapper is believed to be a fugitive. Joaquin's name has travelled far, but his story has not. Once Shipper hears it, he does all he can to help the broken man, even making him a Marshal in order to help him track down the kidnapper.

Thus begins a journey that spans nearly three years, across several states, including Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Montana and many others. Through harsh environments and extreme situations, both mental and physical. We learn more about the tracker and his prey, John Slaughter.

If evil could have a physical form, it would be John Slaughter. He is a man who detests man-kind. So much so, that he wants to eradicate it and form a super-army, with himself at the lead. He travels with a convoy and has many safe-houses, all of which are well 'off the beaten track'. He always has young girls with him. He wants to 'educate' them to be the perfect 'ants'. To him, women are simply big children. A genetic mutation. He wants soldiers with no emotion and little 'ants' to tend to their needs. The girls will become the perfect women- 'ants' devoted to the colony, utterly devoid of self-preservation or being. All in his presence must call him 'The Master", for that is what he believes himself to be and what he wants to become. 

Sylvia is brought to the convoy two weeks after her kidnapping. It's a harsh life, constantly marching, constant physical exertion in Slaughter's very own 'survival of the fittest' world. The weakest are 'thinned from the herd'. He occasionally gives the girls tests. Whoever fails is left behind. All the girls are given ankle bracelets upon their arrival, which contain a tracking device, meaning the girls can't run or get away. If they try to remove it, it sends out a signal and they are found out instantly. She meets many other girls along the way, as Slaughter constantly leaves girls (whether at one of his safe-houses or alone in the wild) and brings others in. When the girls turn thirteen, they are left at a safe-house for further education. 

Joaquin is angry and desperate for revenge. He is willing to kill all who get in his way without a second thought. During one of his attacks, he finds himself taken down too. Saved by a massive man he calls 'the Giant', he spends a lot of time with the man as he recovers. 'The Giant' no longer remembers his name, but his story is seared into his mind and he tries to reason with Joaquin to leave his anger behind and accept forgiveness. This odd prophet delivers a pathway to inner peace for Joaquin. His story resonates so deeply and is so similar to Joaquin's own, that the man feels he has found a kindred spirit in this huge hermit. 

Joaquin tries to understand, tries to accept, but his mission and hate are so strong and burn so bright inside him that it is an impossible task. 

This is one of the few stories I've read, where you feel like you've been on the long journey with them. The weariness and tension experienced by so many of the characters, begins to take its toll on the reader as well. Joaquin's non-stop determination towards his goal. His extreme lows- where he becomes just a being, a creature and forgets everything except that he's tracking a monster and can never stop- are hard for the reader to bear too. Not as hard as it is for the characters, obviously, but enough to make the journey feel the length it actually is. This is a story that spans years and miles and the author does a great job making the reader not only believe that, but experience it to the greatest extent they can. 

There is very little dialogue in this book, and what is there feels very old-fashioned. The way they talk, the words they use, all add together to give the impression of an long ago story, though this is a book set in very modern times. There's technology and all the other marvels of the modern world, so the result is a world that feels a little juxtaposed with the people in it. Not necessarily a bad thing. Some people may find it a little distracting, but I found it more intriguing. 

Another thing that may be an issue for some readers is the changes in Point of View. It doesn't happen incredibly often, but the problem lies more in the manor of the changes. Every time the POV switches, the story returns back to the last moment we saw that character in, even if that means returning to the start of the book. It can be a little confusing in places at first, but once you get used to it, I don't think it's a problem. 

The characters are hard to describe. Everything is said through their actions and presence, with very little spoken between any of the characters. They come alive when they interact with each other, but when they're alone, they somehow become less of a person and more of a character. Maybe that's the problem, they're more characters than people. It's not that they're unrealistic, it's more that so many of them are so obscure or unusual that's it hard to relate to them. I fully believe that anyone can become any of these characters given the right circumstances. However, that doesn't make it any easier to understand them. I can understand their motives and the reasoning behind what they do, but actually understanding them is a different story. They interact so strongly together, that the reader is almost kept out of the loop. This means that while the characters are interesting and work well together, there's no real sense of loss when one is left behind or lost, because they're more important to each other than to the reader. 

As I mentioned earlier, there is an amazingly small amount of dialogue. Instead we get beautiful descriptive writing, that flows flawlessly and paints stunning landscapes and brings the characters and places to life. It fits very well with the strong 'back to nature' feel I got from this book. I'm interested in knowing whether I was the only one who got that vibe. The story is very big on leaving behind the cold, technological world in favour of the bounties of nature. This theme can be a little overshadowed by another sometimes. I know a lot of people got annoyed with this second theme- religion. There is a lot of forgiveness and God talk, but I personally didn't find it an issue. I know a lot of books with religion in them can seem preachy, but this wasn't a book about religion to me. It was just a book with religion in it. And the characters are preaching, but to one another, not the reader. Yes, some people might consider those two the same thing, but it's not. I live by the 'to each his own' motto, and am perfectly happy for people believe whatever they want to. Why should it matter to me? The only time I get irritated by it, is if someone tries to force their beliefs on others or if they use their beliefs as an excuse to do bad things. That's not how religion should work. Some people may say, but aren't the characters in this book forcing their beliefs on others? To an extent, maybe, but mostly they're just trying to offer comfort and support the best way they know how, which just happens to be in the form of religion some of the time.

Mainly, this is a story of forgiveness and hope in their purest forms. One man finding peace within himself and accepting redemption. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. It's not what I'd call a mainstream book. I have a hard time categorising it. From the description I would call it a thriller, but it's so very atypical of your general thriller that it doesn't quite fit in the genre. For this reason, some people may dislike it, but if you're a fan of unconventional stories, that have more of an 'indie feel', or are a fan of adventure-thrillers, why not take a look?

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the author through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.

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