There are a lot of surprises in store for readers of Christopher Rice's new novel, Blind Fall, not the least of which is that it's quite engaging -- even if one aspect of that engagement is seeing if the next twist is going to completely break the binds of believability.
As a gay author, the most obvious synopsis of Rice's book would be to say that it's about gays in the military, since a gay Marine is central to the story. This theme, however, is vastly overshadowed by the idea that karma is real and if you don't atone for your digressions, you're going to pay.
Taking center stage in Blind Fall is John Houck, an ex-Marine who feels indebted to Mike Bowers, a fellow Marine who saved his life in Iran. John is a loner, living in a trailer, sleeping with random women (yes, John is straight) and struggling to make sense of his life. His relationships with those closest to him are in shambles -- his brother is dead by suicide, he's estranged from his sister, and Mike isn't returning his calls or letters. So when another Marine whose life John saved shows up with information on the man whom John accused of raping his brother, it seems like revenge is the only way to go.
Up to this point, Blind Fall appears to be a character study of a veteran. However, this is when Rice takes his readers on the first of many blind twists. Instead of seeking out the man John believes to be a rapist, he tracks down Mike Bowers and drives to his home in a tiny, California town in the middle of the night. Never a good idea. This is where he discovers Mike's recently murdered body and we're on the road to Unbelieveableville.
If this wasn't enough, while John is chasing down the possible killer through the woods, Mike's body disappears and John not only has to deal with his homophobic self when he learns Mike is gay, but he also has to convince others that Mike is really dead. The local sheriff is of no help and John can't figure out what's going on except that someone is trying to frame Mike's boyfriend, Alex, for the killing. Fueled by his feeling of debt towards Mike, John transfers his sense of duty to Alex, and the rest of the novel is spent hiding, training Alex to fight, learning the wrongs of homophobia, and dealing with personal baggage.
Rice's plot is intricate to say the least, with layer after layer of subplot thrown in for good measure. That every character comes with fully packed baggage is a testament to the rich and detailed world Rice has created, but it also causes things to get real cluttered, real fast.
For all the complexities of his plot, Rice's writing style is basic and borderline sparse. His use of simple, declarative statements identifies all the feelings and motivations of the characters, sometimes helping the plot advance at a rapid pace and other times removing any question as to his character's motivation.
Rice does have a tendency to lay it on thick at the end of each chapter, the literary equivalent of a music swell just before a soap opera cuts to commercial. It's heavy-handed and sometimes trite, but actually sets the reader up for the ending, which is one long melodramatic climax of emotion and action. Given the number of demons that John and Alex each have to fight, it's not surprising that it takes a big, over-the-top ending to conquer them all.
Rice's novel is clearly well thought out and meticulously plotted. But it's hard to imagine his characters keeping up with all the twists and turns. Whenever Rice has them pull a trick in an attempt to trip their opponents, it's immediately explained to the reader in case it wasn't obvious enough. Depending on the audience, this is either going to be very helpful or very condescending.
Sadly, the book's final twist is so much of a reach that it blows up in our face. That's when we know we're no longer just on the road to Unbelieveableville, but that we've arrived and have already purchased real estate.