Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Book Review: Discretion by David Balzarini

As a young man, Colin Wyle is not particularly impressive. The son of a former professional basketball player, Colin is cordial and likeable enough, but ultimately he’s forgettable. He, like many boys his age,  spends most of his time daydreaming about the unattainable girl-of-his-dreams, Natalie Merian, and the rest of his time trying to figure out a way to earn his father’s respect. Then one day while attending church with the family of one of his friends, Colin begins to hear a voice. The disembodied personality calls herself Christel, and she begins guiding Colin to a better life.

Thanks to Christel, Colin becomes a sports hero and wins the affections of his girl and the growing tenuous respect of his father. Is she a guardian angel, a psychic spirit guide, a muse, a daemon? Colin doesn’t know, and frankly he doesn’t care. Things are going perfectly, and Colin is on his way to the life he’s always wanted. Then, one day while on a holiday trip to the lake, everything changes. Natalie disappears. Suspicion falls on Colin and his father. Days pass, tension mounts, and then out of the blue, Christel is in Colin’s ear telling him the steps he has to take. Hours later, Colin’s life is changed again, Natalie is saved, the man who had her is dead, Colin is a killer, and the police are covering the whole thing up to save face.
Years pass. Colin and Natalie have remained friends, but he is in a new relationship, engaged to be married. He has an investment job which he has been very successful at with Christel’s help. Then, again torment from his past arrives. New evidence has surfaced in several cases similar to the one involving Natalie’s abduction. Investigation is sure to uncover his involvement in the death of her captor. Colin needs Christel now more than ever, but is she everything he’s always assumed that she was?

Discretion by David Balzarini is a thriller with a message. A born again Christian, Balzarini weaves a tale that’s more about consequences than resolution. None of the thriller elements of the story are ever reconciled in the traditional manner, but fatalists and those who enjoy affirmation of faith in their literature are sure to take comfort in the book’s suppositions and anti-resolution.

The story is told mostly in a first-person present voice which I personally find off-putting. When I write, I create my notes and outline in first-person present. The beginning paragraphs of this review are also written in that POV. It’s more urgent feeling and gives one the sense of being instantly connected to the action. However, as I tell a story, I prefer to put all of the action in the past, where it belongs. “Guy walks into a bar,” may work for a joke told to friends at a party, but if I’m writing to an audience, I want them to understand that the action occurred in a tangible reality which I am recounting — not one which I am describing on the fly.

This is not to say that Balzarini doesn’t create a richly textured atmosphere. Indeed he does. His words are carefully chosen and I understand why he elected for the immediacy afforded by telling the story as if it’s happening in the now. I’m not noting this to say the writing is poor. Quite the contrary, it’s excellent. However, for me, there was a curve where I had to acclimate to the style in order to appreciate the writing. So this isn’t a criticism as much as it is fair warning.

I will say that I wish there had been more resolution to the traditional mystery element at the end of the story. The focus at the conclusion is more on Colin’s spiritual resolution than on wrapping up the story of how Natalie wound up where she did that long ago summer day; and there was no warning that this was going to be the case in the book’s description. In fact, the description gives no indication whatsoever that the story is less Taken and more Angel Heart. I, for one, wish I had known that going in.

David can be found on Twitter and Discretion is available for the Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.


When my father calls, my nerves tingle like wires hanging near a bathtub, not touching so to create havoc, but close enough to experience the palpable energy of two opposing forces near one another.
On the second day, during the three days that Natalie was missing, my father ranted and raved about Natalie and every conversation with Jackson or Viktor, the attorney, centered on the removal of liability—as if his status were the only thing that mattered; not Natalie’s life that hung in the balance. And I’ve resented him since.
I answer his call, not because I want to, but because if I don’t, he’ll call until he reaches me and it’s better to take the poison now than wait.
His greeting is cheerful; my response tries hard to be neutral, but it errs on the side of hostile.
“I know you’re busy, but I wanted to stay in touch. How’ve you been?” my father says. He sounds oddly cheerful.
When I left for college, he got nostalgic. He began telling stories of my childhood as if it was some magical time. Little League World Series. Baseball and academic scholarship. A late round pick by the Florida Marlins. The dream coming true for him, to see his son achieve greatness in pro sports.
Christel made other plans. Once the pro sports career went south, he lost interest just as fast.
“I’m managing. Been busy.” I start pacing around my office.
“Yeah, I’m not buying it. What’s going on?”
He never wants to know when it’s about Natalie.
“So…what’s news?” I say after the long silence.
“I sold three of the businesses and plan to whittle away the rest over the next year or so.”
“Really?” He must be going postal. Or Brooke has him by the balls to travel more and attend to her every need.
“Yeah. I can’t believe it either, but I’m moving on from them. tirement doesn’t suit me, I think. But what the hell, I’ll give it a try.”
“Call the network back, then. They’ll have you in a New York minute.” Then I will go back to never hearing from you. How I like it.
My father laughs at the thought. “I like the idea, actually. I’ve never been one to lay on the beach, watching the sunset…ah, I don’t know. I’m not ready to be done working.”
“I must agree. You’ll go crazy before long.”
“Brooke wants to spend six months in Europe.”
“And there is the motivation.”
“Son, you knew that was the reason before I said so.”
“True.” I pause a moment. “Seriously, though. Call the network back. Kenny and Chuck could use your company. Teach them how to play golf while you’re at it.”
“You know she’d throw a fit, so why entertain it?”
It would be fun to watch. I’d drive to his place so I could watch the video footage. “Because it would be fun for you. Pay wouldn’t hurt either.”
He sniffs and remains silent. He’s stewing over the idea. He’s got to be trying to figure out how to slip this past Brooke. The man lives for action. He and I exchange a few pleasantries and hang up, parting on the notion we’ll connect again soon but we know it’ll be months before we talk again.

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