I read Tom Schreck's prior novel, "Vegas Knockout" and loved it, so I eagerly anticipated another action-filled, somewhat humorous, life with a grain-of-salt-and-two-grains-of-aspirin sort of escapade in his newest novel, Getting Dunn (Thomas & Mercer 2012). The title even sounds that way, doesn't it? Like a fast-moving action novel interlaced with enough humor to keep it from being frightening.
And that's how it was for the first 2/3rds. An ex-military MP-turned stripper--TJ Dunn--and suicide hotline host struggles to come to grips with the death of her fiancee. Despite being two years in her rear view mirror and weekly therapy, she can't move on. It haunts her days and dreams. When she finds out he might have been murdered, she reluctantly joins his ex-best friend to uncover the truth.
Schreck does his usual superb job of sketching out TJ's character, with riveting details about her experience in Afghanistan, the dance hall she performs at several times a week, and her day job as a suicide hotline counselor. He spends much time (maybe more than necessary, but I kept reading) detailing the motivations and emotions that drive her, enough so that I find myself believing she could be real. Why not? Those two jobs aren't that contrary, are they? He does equally well with the other central figures. I'd say character development is one of his strengths, one many authors struggle to achieve.
Just as the pace begins to drag (because I'm already convinced of TJ's motivations and don't need another example to drive the point home) and I start wishing there was more action than stripping, talking suicidal victims down from the ledge and TJ crying over the depth of emotion she continues to carry over the disasters of her past life, the action begins. Duffy (the lovable boxer from Vegas Knockout) appears as a potential love interest. He's always fun, especially with his sidekick, Al. I like authors who tie together characters developed in other books with new ones. It makes the whole fictional world so much more real. And then Forbus appears--an emotionless killer who I can almost empathize with through Schreck's writer's lens:
"Forbus found Dunn a fascinating quarry. First of all, having an opponent who was a woman was different and presented Forbus with different variables. Second, and maybe this was related to being a woman, Dunn was fired with emotion. It made it difficult to predict her behavior or call her next move. Third, she seemed to have this outdated Hollywood version of honor."
Doesn't that make you want to get to know Forbus better. Certainly, I'd never want to be in her cross hairs, but reading about her--that feels safe. I wriggled into my reading chair and ignored the clock's call to bed.
About 3/4ths of the way into the story, the plot took a dangerous turn from willing suspension of disbelief to, well, skepticism. A plot twist (which I won't reveal because I don't want to spoil the story) turned the story's entire theme on end, so significantly it now required a different sort of reader to enjoy the new direction. I consider Schreck's audience to be thriller/action readers--kind of like TJ, with a sense of honor, belief in country, a bias for action. The change required a conspiracy theory believer--someone who was willing to believe concepts like the American government actively caused 9/11. Yes, that's a valid audience, but not the one who picked up this book. I liked the book greatly up to this point, and now it seems ridiculous, like I was tricked.
The odd part is, what that twist accomplished could have been done with any number of other devices that were true to the theme of the story. I don't understand why Schreck selected this one, unless he has some political point he wants subtly to make.
I was prepared to award 4/5 stars (Schreck is still developing his plotting techniques as a writer which cost him a star. I expect each book, he'll be stronger in that area), but now I'm struggling to give 3/5. And, I'm not sure I'll read any more of his books. I feel sad about that. I'll miss Duffy.