“As a reader, it is difficult to fathom how Baxter will be able to keep up the relentless pace and energy of the first part, but maintain it he does. Exceeds it, even.”
On page one of Manifest Recall, the reader discovers that they know as much about the protagonist as the protagonist does. That includes the fact that he is hurtling down the road in a beaten up old car and that a young woman in her late teens-to-early twenties is sitting in the passenger seat, terrified, hardly dressed and with her hands bound with cable ties. Rarely does a book start with such a sucker punch, but Alan Baxter is actually just getting started.
Eli Carver slowly begins to piece together the series of events that brought him to this daring—perhaps stupid flight from the criminal gang that is really the only family he has ever known. As we come up to speed, realising that Carver is a hitman—and a damn good one—we observe the stepping stones, via flashback, that Eli has passed over on his way to the deadly situation he finds himself in. We begin, too, to understand a little better how Carly—the girl in the passenger seat—came to be there and why she has stuck around through Eli’s terrifying blackouts.
The cast of the book is narrow, allowing us to get to know the central characters well. Side characters too, though, are colourfully sketched and add to the story, never feeling like token additions. Besides Eli and Carly, the main people receiving ‘screen time’ in the novella provide the horror element to this noir/horror mashup. They are significant victims of Eli’s career as a gun for hire. They variously aid and taunt him throughout the story, as well as unpicking details of information about the kind of man he once was and the kind of man he now wants to be. For, while this is in many senses the classic story of the gangland badass—expert fighter, shooter, drug and gun runner—it is also the story of a man who wants out. One who wants to atone for some of his past wrongdoing.
Without wanting to provide spoilers, Part One is scene setting, a one-thousand-mile-per-hour catch up, bringing the reader up to speed with how Eli got himself into this mess. Part two is his decisive action to resolve the situation. As a reader, it is difficult to fathom how Baxter will be able to keep up the relentless pace and energy of the first part, but maintain it he does. Exceeds it, even.
For fans of noir, or simply lovers of a story full of action and intrigue, Manifest Recall has everything you could want from a novella. At just one hundred-and-sixty pages, it can be devoured comfortably in a single sitting. Such is the energy of the book that finding a place to pause is a difficult task. If page one starts with a sucker punch, the remainder of the book might be thought of as continuing from there. A relentless beating of the reader, but one which you will to go on until the bitter end.
Publisher: Grey Matter Press
Release Date: 26 June 2018
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