Review: Ares Road

Ares Road
Ares Road by James L. Weaver

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really like the concept of this book – a mobster with a conscience! And I was privileged enough to be given an Advance Review Copy, for which I am still grateful.

But I found it hard to enjoy.

So first,
the good
(without giving anything away): I can see the potential in Weaver’s writing style and he has a fantastic plot: the opening paragraph to chapter 10 is brilliance and the chapter itself flows and reads beautifully. The neighbour has the right mix of caution for Jake and compassion for Logan that makes the scene believable.

The toilet scene in chapter 36 is even better – funny, natural and real.

There are some standout lines of imagery:

– the contents of an old takeout container ‘turning to the dark side’
– ‘a deep voice that made James Earl Jones sound soprano’
– ‘with the massive grace of a drunken toddler’
– ‘Bear returned to the couch and crushed whatever resiliency was left in the old cushions’
– ‘eyes so spread apart he could stand on Wednesday and see both Sundays’.

There was also one good surprise that was brilliantly timed and followed-up.

The novel was the perfect length.

All of these points and more led me to a three-star review.

But now, and I apologise in advance,
the bad…
Throughout, Ares Road is filled with unnecessary repetition, confused pace, a misunderstanding of grammar and sentence structure, a whole lot of telling-not-showing, questionable motives, and a misuse of precision; all of which pulled me out of the story.

Let me explain by example:


“Well, we gotta find the briefcase now. You’re too young to have dentures.”
“Couldn’t afford them anyway.”
“Do you know what’s in the briefcase?”
“Not a clue. I was hired to get Voleski and the briefcase.”

Confused pace
Three sentences on condo prices followed by a long sentence describing the weather just to drip-feed some backstory is not what I expect to read in the middle of a desperate worry about a missing target, a dead guy, a screaming girl, and sirens: on page one!

Action scenes were often relegated a backseat to a paragraph-long description of a new character’s hair colour, muscle size, age, weight and accent.

Grammar and sentence structure
Sentences jarred from a missing word, often giving the impression an inanimate object was performing a task:

Devaroux’s face bathed in the yellow glow from the afternoon sun

– it’s as though someone said ‘was bathed’ sounded too much like telling, so instead of finding a different way to say it (shone? glowed?) the ‘was’ was dropped instead.

Jake dropped the gun from the kid’s jaw. Henry rubbed the red spot formed from the pistol barrel. Vials spread across the table over Henry’s shoulder.

(After Jake doing the dropping, and Henry doing the rubbing, this reads as the vials doing the spreading of their own volition.)

Commas were missing or added inappropriately, and tenses were mixed up. Subject and object were mixed up.

She marched over to the truck with blue eyes.

A thick aluminum pole set in a flowered rock garden hosted a flapping American flag that reflected from the tinted windows covering the building’s entrance.

(From the context, I think the building is the subject.)

Possibly the most jarring was a fatal misunderstanding of the word ‘conscious’:

“Doesn’t selling poison to the bad guys weigh on his conscious?”
“He’s a United States Senator,” Drabek said, tilting his form toward Jake. “He doesn’t have a conscious anymore. Speaking of conscious, where’s my do-gooder ex-wife?”

The narrative told me about characters, then had them behave at jarring odds: the supposed ice queen, married to her FBI work, who, when we meet her running late for an urgent meeting with her boss, invites a complete stranger to a warm, sit-down conversation in her office, and divulges personal and case information.

The Russian, who goes from snivelling fugitive to suddenly wielding all the power, with all the contacts and the upper hand, even though nothing instigated such an enormous behavioural change.

Logan, whose ‘casual acquaintance’ with Jake had ‘deepened over the past several months over a couple of movies and steak dinners’. It suggests they’re lovers. They behave as equals. We’re told they’re employer and employee.

Questionable motives
Why was the screaming girl ever held captive? We’re told right at the end, but it’s an afterthought, not a solid reason.

Misuse of precision
Weaver uses some very precise descriptions of character movements and events, and ‘minutes’ and ‘seconds’ were no exception, mostly used as literally as you’d expect in a suspenseful story; except when he was generic at inappropriate moments.

We go from ‘fifteen seconds ticked off the clock…this thing wouldn’t make it in two minutes’ to:

Jake drained the last of his Pacifico and set the bottle on the table. “(spoiler deleted)
Bear leaned back in his chair, his lips moving as he tried to get the cogs spinning in his head to line up. He stroked his beard with his massive hands and a minute later thumped his elbows on the table.
“Wait…(spoiler deleted)?”

That ‘minute’ constitutes some very slow thinking from a character who is actually very bright, very quick.

And finally, the ugly

I sound picky and anal, and I’m sorry. Everyone else has given four or five star reviews and I nearly gave this a two. But in story-telling, words are all we have, and the issues I’ve raised are constant (hundreds of them at a guess). If every one of them takes me an instant or two to figure out what the writer really meant, then no wonder I had no suspension of disbelief, no empathy for the characters, no interest in the story: I was never given the chance to be immersed.

And that’s a shame, because somewhere under here is a good story that deserves to be told.

View all my reviews

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