With cover blurbs from Lee Child, Patricia Cornwell, and James Patterson, and a positive review from Kirkus Reviews, I expected pretty big things from Noah Boyd‘s The Bricklayer. And while I enjoyed it, I found it to be a little formulaic.
Now, I’m not particularly negative when it comes to formula. Formula, well-done, can be very satisfying. You have expectations and the author fulfills them. That’s great! Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is iconic, and the books have a formula, more or less – disaffected outsider with mad skills drops into complicated situation, promptly develops love interest (either the woman or the relationship are doomed), out-thinks and out-fights all the bad guys, and leaves town.
Yet Child does this so well… and delivers so well… that despite the “formula,” the reader is completely drawn in to the plot, is on the edge of his/her seat with suspense, and lets the tears fall when tragedy strikes before the ultimate triumph. And his books are re-readable; even though I know the plot twists, it’s still fun and worthwhile.
Noah Boyd’s Bricklayer? Not so much. There’s the ex-FBI loner protagonist, smarter and tougher than anybody else in the book. Show he’s still tough by making him earn his living as a bricklayer. Show he’s sensitive by having him be a sculptor, too. There’s the gorgeous female FBI agent (Deputy Assistant Director) tasked with luring him in – hello! love interest! There’s the twisty, turny plot, replete with good guys getting killed. And also some nice ambiguity about who, exactly, the bad guys are.
Boyd’s Steve Vail is an interesting enough main character and the writer does a good job of putting together a plot, but the formula was a little too obtrusive for me and I figured out early who the “insider” bad guy was going to be. The whole ending – from the final paragraph in chapter 35 to the last sentence in the “After” section – was like taking a well-wrapped present, encasing it in another layer of paper, and putting on a couple of extra bows. Why?
OK, rereading this post and I have to say, although everything above is true, it is also harsher than I meant it to be. The Bricklayer‘s worth reading. I’ll definitely be interested in Boyd’s next novel. I was just hoping for something a little more!