The Story. Jack Kendrick wants to find out what happened to his missing archaeologist father so that he can rehabilitate his legacy. He finds a clue pointing to his dad’s last known destination, an Indian reservation in Wyoming. He talks his best friend Rudy into a road trip and heads west. They learn helpful information from an Indian legend and follow a guide into a cave that leads to a system of tunnels where they encounter horror and death.
Elina Gutierrez is a suspended LAPD cop. When she learns that her cousin is missing, she determines to do whatever it takes to find him. She knows she shouldn’t, but she sets up a one-officer stakeout and follows a van transporting immigrant workers to supposed out-of-state jobs. But rather than going to Nevada as they’d been told, the van leads her into Wyoming.
George Wilcox is at his wit’s end because his beloved wife is dying a horrible death–first losing her memories and her very personality. When he’s contacted by someone in Wyoming promising him a cure, he eagerly–though not without some skepticism–packs Miriam into the car and drives north. To the town of Beckon.
Yes, all three of these story threads weave together in the little backwater town whose nearest neighbors are the N’watu, the people of legend. Something deadly is going on in Beckon. Or is it something miraculous?
Strengths. Author Tom Pawlik is an outstanding writer. His descriptions are vivid, his story concept unique. He’s organized the book into four distinct sections, from three different points of view and in reverse chronological order. It’s not your everyday kind of book!
Mr. Pawlik has also created believable characters, each with a specific need that drives them to act. This in turn creates tension and pushes the story forward. Add in danger and suspense and the story becomes gripping.
As I alluded to in my first-day tour post, the story raises significant questions–ones I believe to be key in our present-day culture. Central is the matter of the value of life. Are there any “throw away” people?
In my mind, this issue of necessity includes life in the womb. Are these little lives less important than the big lives of those outside the womb? Is it moral to sacrifice those little lives for the betterment of big lives?
Mr. Pawlik doesn’t just raise questions–he gives faces, and storylines, to people on both sides. Suddenly the clear-cut answers seem a little murkier.
At this point one of the characters who is a Christian steps up and does something that gives some answers for anyone thinking about the issues. Note, this character does not preach a sermon or even argue the points. She simply does something consistent with the Bible without saying that’s what she’s doing.
Which actually brings me to the next part of the review.
Weaknesses. In many ways, the act of nobility I referred to in the last section would have been perfect as part of the climax. But the story continued for some time after this pivotal event. From my perspective, the big question was answered–whose worldview would win out? The events after that point, then, didn’t carry the same significance, I didn’t think. They were a bit of fluff, if you can call horrific events “fluff.”
The other area of weakness is one I share as a writer–not presenting characters in a way that allows readers to connect with them. Of course Beckon is not a character-driven novel, and readers were pulled along by the tension, the suspense, the conflict between good and evil even if they didn’t feel particularly attached to the characters. It was a thrill ride, an adventure. At times all you could do was hold on tight and see where you ended up.
Part of me thinks the story would be that much stronger if the reader cared more deeply for these people. They seemed believable, surely. They had real wants, serious dilemmas, emotional and spiritual crises to go along with the physical disasters they faced. Readers should have loved them, cheered them on, cared deeply about their choices. If we had, this book would have raced to the top of the Best Book lists, I’m fairly confident.
Recommendation. I’m not inclined to read thriller type books, but after having read Vanish, Mr. Pawlik’s Christy Award winning debut novel, I knew I would read whatever he wrote. Beckon did not dissuade me from that position. Yes, there were horrific events, but there was also hope and help and sacrifice.
I highly recommend Beckon to adults who love the creepy, the bone-chilling, the fear-inspiring, and to those who want to consider the issues of life and immortality. It’s a good story filled with tension and intrigue and packaged in a unique structure that enhances the reading experience.