Austin Williams’ MISDIRECTION

22613699I read the odd suspense title now and again.  I don’t read a lot in the genre – I tend to stick to the big names such as Lee Child and Harlen Coben (which may be the romance equivalent of reading Nora Roberts and umm… Lisa Kleypas?  Who are the romance big-name authors?).  But the street magician angle to Austin Williams‘ MISDIRECTION caught my eye when I was asked if I’d be interested in participating in a blog tour and so I accepted a review copy.

A street magician needs more than sleight-of-hand to survive getting embroiled in a murder case in this blistering novel of suspense, perfect for fans of Harlan Coben and George Pelecanos.

After years of chasing fame and hedonistic excess in the bright lights of Las Vegas, Rusty “The Raven” Diamond has returned home to Ocean City to piece his life back together. When he finds himself an innocent suspect in his landlord’s brutal murder, Rusty abandons all hope of maintaining a tranquil existence. Acting on impulse, he digs into the investigation just enough to anger both the police and a local drug cartel.

As the unsolved case grows more complex, claiming new victims and inciting widespread panic, Rusty feels galvanized by the adrenaline he’s been missing for too long. But his newfound excitement threatens to become an addiction, leading him headfirst into an underworld he’s been desperately trying to escape.

Austin Williams creates an unforgettable protagonist in Rusty, a flawed but relatable master of illusion in very real danger. As the suspense builds to an explosively orchestrated climax, Williams paints a riveting portrait of both a city—and a man—on the edge.

I feel the cover reflects the story remarkably well.  It’s not a light fluffy one – it’s dark, drugs play a central role in the plot, and there’s a fair bit of violence.  The Ocean City boardwalk is very much part of the story’s backdrop.  And the way the title’s split across three lines hints at the book’s USP, i.e. Rusty’s street magician background and the usage of misdirection when pulling off magic tricks.

And as the latter was a fairly large part of the book’s appeal to me – did it come off?  Well, this will probably only make sense if you’ve watched BBC’s Sherlock, but you know when they’re showing how Sherlock’s mind works, and everything goes into slow motion as he makes connections?  There’s a similar stylistic device used in this book – for instance, when Rusty’s having a not-particularly cordial exchange with one of the police, we get this passage:

Rusty knew he could disarm this uniformed frat boy in just about 2.7 seconds. The task wouldn’t present much of a challenge. He could easily divert Neely’s eyeline with a lateral, non-aggressive movement of his left arm.

Momentarily distracted, the cop would never see the fingers of Rusty’s right hand extracting a one-inch smoke pellet from a customized hidden pocket in his jeans. Pinched at the proper angle, the pellet would explode in a blinding flash followed by a plume of gray smoke. Utterly harmless but highly effective for misdirection.

The span of time Officer Neely would need to recover from his surprise would offer Rusty ample opportunity to relieve him of the gun. Using his fingertips, he’d grab the wrist and isolate pressure points causing Neely’s hand to open involuntarily. From there, Rusty would simply reposition his body at a 45-degree angle and use his left hand to retrieve a sterling set of monogrammed handcuffs tucked in a different hidden pocket. One more second would be sufficient to cuff the young patrolman to a column of the bannister directly behind him.

It did take a couple of chapters for me to get used to the style, but it ended up working for me, and the peek behind the curtains for a few magic tricks was fascinating.  The stakes quickly get higher as Rusty tries to solve his landlady’s murder and finds himself embroiled in the local drug-dealing crowd, needing to call on his arsenal of tricks to save his skin and reveal the ringleaders.  It’s more of a thriller than a mystery (we get the POV of the murderer fairly early on), and the action certainly ramps up as the book progresses.

However, it’s safe to say the TSTL* archetype is not limited to urban fantasy heroines.  Halfway through the book, Rusty does a mind-blowingly stupid thing – it left me speechless, and I almost wanted him to be killed.  But that wouldn’t really be good for the protagonist of the first book of a trilogy, and I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying Rusty’s still alive at the end of the book?

But maybe that describes Rusty’s character – I’m not entirely sure that he cares about whether he lives or dies at times.  We see glimpses of his past and why that may be the case, but I felt a bit distanced from him as a result.  And while MISDIRECTION ends on a good note (with a minor twist telegraphed a mile away), I’m hoping Rusty grows up some in the next book.  There’s definitely some promise – he’s made some new connections by the end, and there are a few dangling plot threads, so all’s set up well for the second installment.

(*TSTL = Too Stupid To Live. For instance, when the protagonist heads down to a dark basement in an abandoned house, or say, when one wanders into the house of known drug-dealers without any plans.)

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Follow Austin Williams on Twitter and Goodreads.

Review copy courtesy of book blog tour organised by Book Junkie Promotions.

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