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Book Review: Quiver

Quiver
By Peter Leonard
St. Martin’s Press, 2008

Impossible for this debut novel not to receive inordinate amounts of press, since it’s the fledgling effort of legendary crime novelist Elmore Leonard’s son. Readers who’ve delighted over the decades to such taut and wonderful books as Get Shorty, Maximum Bob, and 52 Pick-Up will be understandably curious to know if Peter Leonard has managed to absorb any of his father’s unmistakable gifts.The short answer is that he has, and this isn’t necessarily a good thing – after all, he can be presumed to have gifts of his own, right? His story is fairly pro forma: Owen McCall has been accidentally shot dead with an arrow by his son Luke while the two of them are out bow-hunting. The novel opens with Luke and his mother Kate still fresh from this death and staggered by it. Then the narrative takes a lengthy and risky flashback to Kate and Owen’s courtship, not only to give the reader background into the tragedy but to introduce the book’s joyously hissable villain. The shape of the book’s climax is hugely predictable – I got it on page 4 and considered myself a little dim at not seeing it sooner.

Peter Leonard’s problems crop up most often when he’s called upon to do the things his father does so well, like narrate action. Here’s Luke taking on a taunting schoolmate:

Luke, outweighed by sixty pounds, got up from his desk and swung the edge of Algebra II into Falby’s cheekbone and blood spurted and Falby yelled and brought his hand up to his face and Luke swung at him again and then kids were grabbing him, holding him back and Mrs. Hyvonen, their teacher, came in the room and freaked.

First the simple ungrammatical substitution of ‘in’ for ‘into’ inadvertently makes the passage obscene, then that ‘freaked’ banishes it altogether. These are rookie mistakes one imagines his father made too, without the attention of the whole reading world upon him while he made them. Luckily, the son also shares the father’s gift for vivid, simple description, as in this passage where a character has been bow-shot:

He looked like he was going to say something – blood bubbling out his mouth – but didn’t or couldn’t. There was fear in his eyes, knowing he was going to die and knowing there was nothing he could do about it. His hands let go of the arrow and he fell over on his back. His eyes were open, looking up at her, but he was gone.

Given the father’s deep Hollywood connections, Quiver is bound to become a movie someday soon – Zac Efron’s probably taking archery lessons as we speak – but readers in search of a fast-paced gripper need not wait; the book will do just fine.

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