Given the spate of school shootings over the past few years, you would assume a novel about a gunman taking children hostage at a school in a small town would be as suspenseful as it is timely. Unfortunately, I found the suspense lacking and the tension watered down by the novel’s construction which was skillfully done, but slowed the novel’s narrative drive.
The story is told through the eyes of five narrators, all experiencing the horror and processing it in different ways. They are a mother of two student hostages, their grandfather, a teacher (also held hostage), a police officer,and the mother’s 13 year old daughter who is in the school when the gunman appears.
The different perspectives offered by each narrator (either in the first person or third person, in the present or past tense) are interesting, though the first part of the novel can be a bit confusing until the reader sorts them out. Once things fall into place, the story should flow to a furious and compelling conclusion. But the author delves into far too many cul de sacs about each narrator, and bogs down the story’s natural flow, which waters down the tension.
Some people would call this a “thriller” because of the subject matter. I think it’s more a portrait of a small town, and the dynamics of people involved in a terrifying situation, but the read itself is neither terrifying nor thrilling.
While character development in a novel is very important, it should not feel to the reader like some sticky adhesive holding back the story. After all, when you get down to it, the story is what counts. Three and a half stars.