LAKE CHARLES by Ed Lynskey
Wildside Press, 2011, 188 pages, 978-1434430465, Paperback, $12.99
Lakes Charles is a novel that could have been very entertaining. It certainly has enough action for a crime novel, and the atmosphere created by Lynskey amidst the grimy, desolate Lake Charles is enticing, but somehow the story falls short. More than anything it feels like the novel lacked an editor who could help remedy its rougher aspects. Beyond that, the book is simply too long.
Lakes Charles‘ narrative is interesting enough—it does a great job of pulling you in. A trio of friends makes their way to the isolated Lake Charles for a fishing trip in an attempt to forget their troubles. Brendan Fishback, the main protagonist, is being tried for the murder of Ashleigh Sizemore, a young woman he found dead in his hotel room after a one-night-stand. Edna and Cobbs Kuzawa, Brendan’s twin sister and brother-in-law, are trying to patch up their failed marriage and reconcile. But their fishing trip quickly goes wrong when Edna goes missing, forcing Brendan and Cobbs to journey into the lake’s jungle to find her.
The novel’s first hundred pages move at a quick pace. They’re filled with fire-fights, gore-filled deaths, drugs, and an almost crime noir sense of the supernatural at work. The action is engaging, and you quickly become invested in the characters’ momentum. The problem occurs after those first hundred pages. It’s here where the novel seemingly reaches the climax of the narrative, where you think Brendan is finally going to rescue Edna and exonerate himself from his murder conviction. But that doesn’t happen. Edna isn’t found, Brendan finds no evidence to prove his innocence, the bad guy gets away, and our team of heroes is no better off for it. Because of this anti-climax, the rest of the novel seems to drag on. Rather than giving us more pieces of the puzzle to keep us enticed, we’re forced to trudge along and wait for the next climax—and, hopefully, for a resolution. Eventually, the resolution does come, but by that point we’re no longer invested in what’s happening.
Still, it’s not that the story is a bad one, or even that it’s poorly written. Rather, it feels like the story’s key moments aren’t in the correct order. This brings me to my other gripe with the novel: the editing.
From the first line of the first chapter, the book feels like it was lacking a proper editor to help with the final draft. Throughout the book you find poor sentence structure that causes the reader to stumble, descriptions of the lake that muddle your sense of where the characters are, and dialogue that makes the characters feel uneven. One moment, you get a line that reads very casual and colloquial, which is a fitting tone for the characters. But the next, you get “I can’t imagine what became of her.” It feels completely out of place, and it’s something an editor would have noticed.
All that being said, Lynskey succeeds in creating an interesting cast of characters. Brendan is a solid protagonist who’s easy to sympathize with and invest yourself in. As he’s dragged through an insane ordeal way beyond the usual mundane events of his life, his frustration and rage are very believable, and you continue to root for him as he gets closer to finding his sister. Mr. Kuzawa, Cobb’s father, is also a great character, and probably the most engaging one of the novel. A war veteran/ex-federal agent, he’s a loose cannon who goes into the journey as if he were going to war, and he constantly keeps the reader questioning whether his own brand of military justice has crossed the line or not.
This book is by no means a bad novel. It kept me interested throughout a good two-thirds of the story, and, having read it, I feel that Lynskey is the kind of author that I’d give another try. He creates compelling characters, and the overall narrative of Lakes Charles was good. For some, especially those more inclined to crime fiction, this book might be worth the read. I honestly liked this book— it’s well-written, albeit poorly edited. Even so, and despite the fact that I liked it, I didn’t necessarily enjoy reading this book.
Thank you to Ed Lynskey for providing a review copy of this novel.