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The Intruder - Peter Blauner

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Genre: Fiction / Author: Peter Blauner / Edition: New Ed / Paperback / 400 Pages / Book is published 1997-07-03 by Fourth Estate

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      24.08.2010 17:31
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      A book undermined by some daft narrative choices

      What would you do if you had a crazy tramp standing outside your house yelling abuse at your family? Calling the police would certainly be an easy decision, but not to be unkind, they rarely do stuff about crazy tramps anymore. In fact, in parts of the North West it's actually policy to allow as many shambling weirdos to roam the streets as possible; as a child I learnt early on to never to go to town on a Tuesday. With no one else around to help the next obvious decision is to enact some old school vigilante justice - when did that ever go wrong? I mean, no one will suspect you when the tramp that was standing outside your house ends up beaten to death, will they?

      Jake Schiff is a pit bull of a lawyer who has worked his way up from the poor part of town to the classy suburbs of New York. He represents some of the biggest corporations and richest people in America who love his dogged determination. However, all of Jake's training as a lawyer never prepared him for what happens when your family is stalked. After Jake's wife meets a mentally ill tramp they find themselves constantly followed and berated by him. Who is this John Q? He was once a man with a decent job and a family, but circumstances have left him destitute and increasingly detached from reality. When Jake goes to extreme measures to get rid of the tramp he finds himself in deep trouble with not only the police, but the Mafiosi too.

      If 'The Intruder' was a television programme it would be a Soap Opera. This is because like serial TV shows like Neighbours and Eastenders, the characters in 'The Intruder' are too stupid for a reader to enjoy or believe. In most Soaps, characters get themselves into a situation of their own making and rather than backing out early they make ridiculous decisions that drive them deeper into trouble. Jake Schiff is a buffoon who should have starred in a Soap because his actions in this book border on the insane, and are certainly stupid. A high class lawyer should be more intelligent than to become involved with thinly veiled thugs. However, author Peter Blauner expects us to believe that he would do just this to get rid of a tramp problem. As a reader you are not surprised at all when it goes pear shaped.

      What underlines Jake's stupid actions is that the first part of the book is very sensible and well written. John Q, who becomes the crazy vagrant, is giving an emotional and compelling back-story that leads up to the present. Unlike in most crime fiction you feel that you know as much about the criminal as you do the victim. John Q is no a bad man, just one who is deeply disturbed. The first half of the book is almost equally split between the two main characters of John and Jake, flipping between how they finally clash. Once the bizarre incident occurs the book starts to concentrate on Jake, much to the detriment over all. It is a shame that a character as well realised as John Q is dumped as the book turns into a mindless legal action thriller.

      Blauner is unable to balance the early intelligent character development with a sense of pace and thrills. It feels like Blauner wanted to write a quite cerebral look at mental illness amongst the homeless, but his publishers demanded a subpar John Grisham style. When you take into account that Grisham has written some poor books, a subpar version of him is bordering on the unreadable. Any moments of pathos and intelligence are undermined by Jake's actions and the final section of the book, which turns into a bizarre action thriller. One of the final action sequences has to be read to be believed - talk about keeping it in the family.

      If 'The Intruder' had kept its tone consistent throughout I could have seen the book as an empty headed guilty pleasure, or an interesting look into the collapse of one man's life. However, it flips between the two styles and neither of them ends up working. The problems are compounded when you realise how stupid the character of Jake needs to be to get himself into the situation he does. I could imagine his actions from a hot headed journeyman, but a supposedly leading lawyer? His actions seem so out of character with what is needed in the profession. This jarring set of inconsistencies in term of characters and tone means that 'The Intruder' ends up being a rather poor book that will please neither fans of straight fiction, nor crime.

      Author: Peter Blauner
      Year: 1996
      Price: amazon uk - £0.01

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