Written by: Matt Molgaard
A.J Kirby knows how to send a reviewer into a spiraling mess of confusion. Sharkways, the man’s latest novel is the perfect example of a story that wins as much as it loses. The novel proves difficult in rating simply due to the fact that the first half of the novel calls for little engagement, while the second half is genuinely engrossing.
This story, which focuses on Bill Minto, a shady property developer and what initially seems like the business opportunity of a lifetime, hangs on an early slow burn affect. I’m not opposed to sluggish openings traditionally, especially if the introduction yields strong character development (which Sharkways manages, admittedly). But there’s something absent in the first 50 or so pages of this one, and I cannot for the life of me identify the missing ingredient.
Kirby is a crafty, well refined writer, who seems to write on whim, rather than an abundance of over thought. That’s a quality I like: I prefer my tales leaning toward erratic rather than so detailed and mapped that it feels as though the author has crafted 66 drafts of his story. Sometimes it’s just best to let a good tale flow at its own natural pace. Kirby’s prose suggests the work of a man not hell bent on over writing. He’s a quality author, no doubt, but that doesn’t change the fact that this story doesn’t truly reach from the page to snatch readers by the collar until we’re well, well on our journey.
I truly wish I could elaborate on my lone qualm with the book, but whatever “it” is that draws the reader in and holds them firm in their seat, it isn’t alive and well in the early portions of Sharkways.
The counter to that detriment arrives as the story’s conflict approaches fever pitch. Bill’s knee deep in Hell, working beneath the eerie Mason House, rummaging through underground corridors that produce both riches and torment and oh how overcome is he. A slew of nasty surprises await Minto and his helping hand, Boy Wonder, or Collie as he was labeled by his parents, and while Collie seems to possess a keen enough instinct to know the place isn’t the ideal working environment, Bill could care less. Money is money.
The ascent from the midway point is fantastic, and fuses some great, tangible imagery with some haunting psychological terror. After wading through a handful of uneventful chapters, Kirby ratchets the tension up to ten and delivers a gratifying finale that almost erases the memory of the previous portions of the story. Almost.
Were this one a bit more consistent from the jump, I wouldn’t hesitate to rate it a solid 3.5 of 5 stars. However, it wasn’t too consistent, and it’s impossible to ignore the early drag and therefore I can’t justify awarding it such a mark. A fantastic finish does however save this one from a certified kamikaze, and I thank Mr. Kirby for that. For a bit there, I was beginning to worry I wouldn’t make it through the novel.
You can give this one a go for a staggeringly inexpensive $4.50, just grab it directly from http://www.damnationbooks.com