Publication Date: August 26, 2015
In The Grave Man (A Sam Prichard Mystery) by David Archer, the retired cop, Sam Pritchard, is going stir-crazy. He was shot on the job and worked hard to regain mobility. When he’s asked to find a missing child, he can’t pass up the case; however, little does he know the rabbit hole it’ll take him down.
According to Amazon, people are calling Sam Pritchard, “the next Jack Reacher.” While the callback to a more famous work makes sense if the new work in any way similar to the reference source; when it’s not, it’s simply annoying. The Grave Man annoys me. Jack Reacher is a man that carries nothing but a debit card and a toothbrush, and though a former M.P., he walks into situations from which he can’t walk away. Sam Pritchard is an emotionally crippled, former cop who is not only locked into his situation but collects fellow prisoners, including a child.
The story wasn’t original, but it was an idea that could have been brilliant had it been done well. Usually, with first books in a mystery series, the case is personal. In the case of The Grave Man, the case isn’t so much personal as the need to get out there and do something. Sam desperately misses police work, a job at which we’re told he was good. He has a need to get out there, and who can turn their back on a missing child? Sam knows that the drug-dealing father took the child but doesn’t have the technological skill to fully succeed at his task. He places an ad on Craigslist for a person with technical skills and meets the homeless, single mother, Indiana, a recent MIT grad. Sam very much likes the idea of having people that need him.
Jack Reacher would never settle into a family; Sam Pritchard does so very quickly and, as it happens, it’s a family embedded in retro traditionalism. Indie, the brilliant, spunky, quite-young recent grad quickly becomes Sam’s maid. She’s happy to cook, clean and wisecrack while he plays the doting surrogate father with a child on his lap. He finds the missing child a bit too easily and finds himself and his new family unit embroiled in intrigue. Everything is a misdirection. Everything is too easy. There are horrible things that happen and Indie and the 4-year-old just move on emotionally, and it’s not something that people naturally do. I know, I know; it’s suspension of disbelief but that can only reach so far and the better a book is written the more readers can stretch. In the case of The Grave Man, the rubber band of disbelief stretched to breaking within the first few pages.
The writing style of The Grave Man is flat and many of the plot points are contrived. Characters are from central casting (Indie seems to be inspired by tough, punk women of the genre but domesticates very quickly), and while The Grave Man is a short novel, the filler material is a bit on the heavy side. Readers of this review may wonder if the inherent problems with the piece are due to it being the first novel in a series. The problems are more that the writing leans on what’s already known within the genre than creative writing skills. Is it that the author knows his archetype, so for him, he mentally fills the obvious blanks in the characters in a way a layperson can’t achieve? That the author describes his novels as “hard-hitting thrillers” shows that this first novel is either an aberration or there is a certain delusion as to the novel style.
The Grave Man has a number of five-star reviews on Amazon, which shows that it has an audience. It should be noted that I also don’t like the books of the very popular James Patterson. The one thing that I can tell readers without equivocation is that Sam Pritchard and Jack Reacher have less than nothing in common, so if you buy this book because you love the writing of Lee Child, you will be sorely disappointed.
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