May 1, 2014

The Whaleboat House By Mark Mills (Book Review)

The Whaleboat House starts with a bang, literary goodness that is. The opening paragraph for Chapter One goes: "The first light of dawn was creeping over the horizon when Conrad was roused from his slumber by Rollo's hollering. Conrad only ever slumbered, he never sleep, not the sleep of a child, dead to the world, its over-sized surroundings. One small part of his brain kept constant vigil, snatching at the slightest noise or shift in smell. It no longer bothered him. He accepted it for what it was: a part of him now, like the scar in his side and the remorseless throb of his damaged knee."

This is the kind of brilliant writing that you will encounter in the pages of The Whaleboat House, the very first novel by the British novelist and screenplay writer Mark Mills. Dark, foreboding, and often painfully mysterious. It strikes you to pay attention. It sparks your imagination. It encourages you to start guessing. Why does Conrad never sleep? Where did he get his alertness in "snatching at the slightest noise or shift in smell". Why does he have a scar in his side? And who or what damaged his knee?

All of these questions will of course be answered as you progress through the novel. Conrad Labarde, the main character in the book has a rather colorful history albeit most of it was painted with dark hues. Some looked up to him as a hero. Some dismissed him as a coward. But Conrad's imperfections are what make him such an endearing character. He does not always do the right thing but you will be rooting for him nonetheless.

The Whaleboat House is a story of love, death, greed and retribution. Set in a seaside community, it tells the tale of a group of people whose lives will be changed when the body of a beautiful young woman was pulled in from the sea. There's seaweed twined in her hair. Did she commit suicide? Was she murdered? Was it an accident? Mills answers these queries with his lush writing and easy-to-follow storytelling.

Conrad Labarde is a character that will stay stuck in your head long after you've gone through the last chapter. He is one of those characters that makes you wish that the author writes another book with the same character.

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