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The Touch of Ghosts - John Rickards

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Genre: Crime / Thriller / Author: John Rickards / Paperback / 304 Pages / Book is published 2005-08-04 by Penguin Books Ltd

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      13.11.2008 17:40
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      Flawed, but enjoyable crime fiction

      I have decided that I will never date a Private Investigator. I have come to this conclusion after reading lots of crime books and coming to a startling conclusion - lovers of PIs always die! It may not happen immediately, but give it 3 or 4 books and suddenly the author finds his character in a rut. What can they do to spice up the series? What about unshackling their hero and kill off their partner? Not only will they now be open to new steamy scenes with random strangers, but you have at least one book already written as the PI seeks justice and revenge. Just remember people next time you see a PI walk across your path, walk right on by and don't stop for a kiss.

      After his parents died Alex Rourke suffered a nervous breakdown that forced him to quit his role as a leading interviewer in the FBI. Now he works for a friend as a PI in a company that tackles simple missing person's cases. With his partner Gemma around Alex finally looks like returning back to his old ways - until Gemma dies! Alex is thrown once more into despair as he must tackle his demons as well as try and solve a murder. He visits a small town full of secrets and suspects. Can he hold himself together long enough to reveal a dark secret that could rip the sleepy town apart?

      For about the first 30 pages of 'Touch of Ghosts' I was uplifted. Having reads the first Alex Rourke mystery I found it an enjoyable book hampered by melancholy and darkness. With his girlfriend and new job it seemed that 'Touch' was going to be a lighter novel. Unfortunately, as soon as Gemma dies the book nose dives back into darkness. As a fan of crime noir this is not a huge problem, what is a problem is John Rickard's insistence of trying to describe Alex's mental health. Alex was on the brink of a breakdown previously and as this book goes on it happens again. Rickard's creates the feeling of a breakdown in two ways; one that works and one that fails.

      The first technique is to intersperse the story with events that happened between Alex and Gemma, these pop up with no warning and can be a little confusing. I like this idea as it was a useful way of showing how hard Alex was taking the grief. The second area is one that fails. Luckily this element did not pop up too much in 'Touch', but it dominated 'Winter's End' - Alex hallucinations. I always find that dreams or hallucinations do not work well on the written page and that is once more the case here. All they do is confuse you as a reader.

      There are elements of 'Touch' that work well. The central investigation is a good one and I enjoyed how Rickards peeled back the mystery layer by layer. My criticism of the first book was that it had an interesting approach, but lacked a good story. Now the opposite has happened as there is a story, but the interesting idea of Alex being a top interrogator is gone. At no point does he use his major skill in this book and he may as well have been almost any other grieving boyfriend. For Rickards to develop a top novel he will need to combine both a story and the unique aspects of Alex's character.

      Despite the several missed opportunities in this book I still found it an enjoyable read. The setting of a sleepy town allows Rickards to keep the story small and list of suspects manageable. The way in which Alex struggles to come to terms with the death of his lover is well written and combining this with a lust for justice/revenge really pushed the book forwards. The problem is that the book is just another whodunit - I would have preferred a happier Alex investigating something that requires his interrogation style. Perhaps a book in which Alex only has a finite amount of time to uncover the truth from a bad guy e.g. to prevent a bomb going off. This would combine both story and interrogation to make a better book than this flawed piece.

      Author: John Rickards
      Year: 2004
      Price: amazon uk - £0.01p (2nd hand)

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