by John Brinling
I'm not particularly well-versed in the psychological thriller genre, especially when it pertains to detectives as the protagonists. So, when John Brinling contacted me about reviewing one of his books, I chose The Watcher because it seemed like an interesting premise and I wanted to challenge myself with the genre again.
The book in one sense is very familiar. There's a serial killer on the loose that has to be stopped with a police lieutenant hellbent on his capture. The not-so-familiar part comes by way of the characters who are not detectives. The protagonist this time around is a paraplegic widow named Janet, who is suffering from horrific out of body experiences in which she witnesses the murderous actions of a serial killer--and he has become aware of her presence through these astral encounters. The detective investigating the murders, Eric, is skeptical of the whole paranormal element to her claims, but he wants to stop the killer at all costs. Plus, he's kind of taken a liking to her.
On the other side of the coin is the killer. Well, killers might be the more accurate way to go, since there are three men at play: Jim Dawson and his two sons, Bruce and Arlo. Any thriller story worth its salt has intriguing villains, and Brinling provides a unique unholy trinity with these guys. Jim is dying of AIDS and is maniacal in his pursuit of preserving his own life and taking the lives of those he blames for his disease. He accomplishes this through his two sons. Bruce, a doctor, is the one who discovers Janet's presence and seeks her out, while obeying his ailing father, and caring for him at the same time. While Arlo, mentally impaired and locked in the basement, is used by them as a kind of avatar through mind control to perform the murders. But, Arlo is also regaining his own mental faculties as a result of Bruce's manipulation, which complicates things down the road.
Honestly, I found the book hard to get into and even harder to finish. Characters like Bruce, Jim, and Arlo were certainly intriguing in their own right, but the story had a slow build in my view and needed something more immediate. I never really got hooked, and my own biases towards the genre didn't help. The last time I tried reading a thriller like this was a novel by Lisa Jackson, and I only made it fifty pages before I quit that one. At least The Watcher does offer a climactic ending that is satisfying on its own, but the road getting there felt too drawn out for my tastes. I guess the main problem for me was the hero end of the story. I never really got behind Janet or Eric, never really rooted for them, so didn't have an invested interest in them winning the day.
For fans of the thriller genre, I'd still recommend giving it a chance. I think the paranormal edge to it may even appeal to some horror fans. Just not this one.