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Book Review – The Grey Man – Vignettes

Many of you have been reading Jim Curtis’s writing for years at his site, Nobody Asked Me.  To my surprise, he asked me to beta read his first novel, The Grey Man – Vignettes, last year, and I, of course, said “YES!”.  (Full Disclosure – OldNFO flew with a member of my family back in the good old days, and he’s been a good friend and guiding hand for me as a writer and shooter for several years.)

Vignettes tells the story of John Cronin, a Special Forces veteran, deputy sheriff, investigator, and overall badass.  He is joined by his granddaughter, Jesse, as well as a former Mexican Federale and his wife, two Marines who luck into being a part of their lives, and assorted Texas and federal law enforcement people.  It’s a good first book from Curtis, and while it’s not a thriller by any means, it’s a page turner that’s worth reading twice to pick up the things you might have missed the first time.  I enjoyed reading the book, even the first time when it was very rough, and I felt comfortable letting Girlie Bear read it.  It’s adult enough that it caught and kept my attention, but not so adult that a teenage boy or girl shouldn’t read it.

Vignettes breaks down into three main parts – a sniper competition, a shooting and criminal investigation/persecution, and an overseas mission for Cronin.  Holding all of these parts together are several chapters that expand the story to show the everyday life of Cronin and his family.  Curtis is an accomplished story-teller, and all of these plots and sub-plots knit together very well.  The story includes romance without becoming mushy or steamy, action without becoming bloody, and tension without becoming a soap opera.

Mr. Curtis does an excellent job of developing the characters of Cronin and the other main members of the story.  Cronin is the man you meet at the hardware store or restaurant who shows impeccable manners, seems absolutely normal, and then you see flashes of him being much more than he appears.  Jesse, his granddaughter, reminds me of the good country girls I knew growing up and while stationed in Texas.  Matt and Aaron, the Marines, remind me a heck of a lot of the men that I worked with in the military.  None of these characters are straight out of central casting, and none of them are cardboard cutouts of the crusty old deputy, the country hellion, and the generic military man.  In other words, Curtis has created characters that live and breathe.  These characters will remind you of real people because that’s how they were written.

That’s not to say that the book is perfect.  The author’s politics shine through in spots, and occasionally it’s laid on a bit thick.  It’s not so heavy that it detracts from the story, but it is noticeable.  While his main protagonists are three-dimensional and fully developed, his antagonists tend to be a bit one-dimensional.  This is mostly due to the fact that there is no main bad guy throughout the stories in the book, so there is less space to develop them as a character.  I expect that if the next book is more of one big story arc, the bad guys will be better developed.

That being said, The Grey Man – Vignettes is an excellent story and read.  Mr. Curtis is writing about what he knows and loves, and it shows.  I give this one 4.5 stars out of 5, and I recommend it to anyone who likes a good, old-fashioned novel.


Update – OldNFO has put up a passage from the sequel, as well as a map of the Cornin ranch.  I’m pawing at the ground to get my hands on the new book.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks DB. Appreciate the good words.


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