Debut novel of the year!
"New Brunswick was the place he called home, and home was where the heart dwelled for unventured souls like himself".
Debut author Marc Ross is the living proof that experience is not a necessary prerequisite for crafting an enticing crime/mystery story, written according to the highest imaginable standards in terms of prose aesthetics and consistency of style. Ross's professional background includes jobs revolving around law and its enforcement while he also has experience by working in a maximum security penitentiary, all vocations that provided ample empirical and observational material that he successfully transforms into literature with his debut novel, The Good Citizen. It is impossible for the unsuspected reader to fathom the fact that a first-timer in the field could so effectively camouflage his inexperience in such a manner that virtually nobody can guess that this profoundly mature text is written by a beginner. Ross's debut instantly strikes a chord with the reader as, in lieu of a prologue, features a quote by George Orwell's classic masterpiece 1984: "Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.". This statement sets the tone of what is about to follow, a crime story of the rare kind, the ones that made people like me a loyal devotee to the genre's works because of their influence and gravitas. I firmly believe that The Good Citizen will be deemed as one of the most groundbreaking debuts in the genre and that the author's name will be heard loud and clear to the hardcore crime fiction fans.
The protagonist is Jacob Keller, a man without a past as an accident that took place a few years earlier erased all his memories from his previous life which now feels like someone else's dream rather than a solid reality that he had actually once experienced. Jacob is a quiet man, a common laborer living in New Brunswick, a town painted with somber colors by the author, sometimes even resembling an urban dystopia. At one point, Ross writes: "past the rows of shuttered shops and vacant units that now dotted this once fine blue-collar town. A town that now lied in the stone-broke shadow of its prosperous youth". The colorless environment mirrors Jacob's state of mind and soul as he ploughs through an everyday routine that sucks his life out of him. Moreover, he is haunted by some pretty vivid nightmares in which a woman, who seems familiar but not quite identifiable, terrifies him out of his wits. He also has a knack for being at the wrong place the wrong time as we realize from the introductory chapter where a bus robbery goes wrong and Jacob becomes the hero of the day as he is the one who resists and eventually pushes back the two thugs who even threaten a pregnant woman with a gun. From this point on, the protagonist embarks on a long journey that will remind him that even if yourself can't remember, there are the others who will not let you live in oblivion, especially if your past is not -strictly speaking- immaculate and you have debts to pay.
Ross throws the reader in at the deep end from the outset and keeps our attention undivided until the -deeply gratifying- finale, effortlessly blending action, the mystery aspect, adding some sublime pieces of dialogue in which Jacob and the rest of the main characters, namely his girlfriend Amanda, his kid neighbor Ben, the policeman and a number of others share their thoughts regarding diachronic questions that reflect the human condition in an eligible manner even for the layman reader. The eternal problem of good and evil, the essence of morality, the disputable effect of punishment in modern societies, and many other philosophical themes act as an interlude in an otherwise densely-plotted novel that accelerates its tempo as we keep reading and after the first half, get braced for a twisty ride that will glue you on your seats, turning the pages in order to discover what comes next. There is a scent reminiscent of David Cronenberg's 2005 film A History of Violence, but I will refrain from saying more as it would be a shame to spoil such a precious reading experience. The Good Citizen offers chills and thrills to the readership though it doesn't stop there as there are many parts that ought to be read carefully in order to grasp the author's skillful characterization in all its complexity. If you are a crime fiction aficionado I would urge you to purchase this novel and allow yourself to be drawn in a vivacious fictional universe that will never let you down. I already added Marc Ross to the list of favorite authors and I will keep my eyes open for his forthcoming publications.