Monday, July 20, 2009

The Hunch - Seymour Shubin

I hadn’t read anything by Seymour Shubin before, although I have the Hard Case Crime reprint of his novel WITNESS TO MYSELF. He has a brand-new novel out from the excellent British publisher Murder Slim Press, THE HUNCH, and that was my introduction to Shubin’s work.

As Dave Zeltserman points out in his introduction to the novel, Shubin’s characters are normal people, the sort we encounter everyday, the sort who might even be us. The couple at the center of THE HUNCH certainly fits this description. Dr. Jon Hendricks is a successful dentist, while his wife Cindy is an aspiring little theatre actor. They live in a suburb of Philadelphia and have a daughter who’s about to get married. In other words, their lives may not be perfect, but they’re pretty darned good. And you know right away, of course, since this is a noir novel, that all that is about to fall apart on them.

It does just as soon as the book opens, when Cindy confesses to Jon that not only has she had a one night stand with an actor/director she knows from her little theatre circle, but she has just killed him because he threatened to reveal their relationship and then attacked her. Jon is horrified by both revelations, but he loves his wife and wants to protect her, so he takes the necessary steps to conceal her involvement with the murder. The rest of the novel is concerned with the effects that Cindy’s crime and Jon’s cover-up of it have on them as individuals and as a couple, especially when their best friend, a true-crime writer who narrates the book, begins to suspect that one or both of them may be guilty.

That aspect gives the book one of its most distinctive qualities. The narrator is telling the story, some of which involves him directly in the action, but much of it doesn’t. He’s relating it after the fact, and with such insight into the thoughts and motivations of the other characters, that the book almost, but not quite, seems to alternate between first and third person, the style that so many thriller writers use today. Shubin’s approach is just enough different that it comes across as slightly odd, but he makes it work, and very well, at that.

This is just the sort of book you’d think that I wouldn’t like. It’s pure psychological suspense, with few twists and turns in the plot. The murder happens off-screen, before the book even begins, and after that, well, nothing much really happens until the end, and even that is pretty low-key (but very effective, with a great final line). But somehow Shubin works some storytelling magic and kept me flipping the pages at a fast pace to find out what was going to happen. I’m not sure how he did it, but THE HUNCH is a fine novel and one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. I’ll definitely be reading more of Seymour Shubin’s work.


Frank Loose said...

Sounds intriguing, James. I'm not a fan of mixed pov, but you sure make a strong case for me to check out this book. What i love most about your blog is i know i can go there several times a week and count on learing about a book I have not yet discovered. Thanks for sharing.

Ben Boulden said...

I read Shubin's THE GOOD AND THE DEAD a few years ago and in that novel used the ordinary man as a protagonist and it worked very well. He was also able to create a certain amount of paranoia that made the story very readable and exciting.

I'll have to try THE HUNCH, and dig my copy of WITNESS TO MYSELF out and read it, too.