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Fiction  |  Novel
332 pages
5½” x 8½” perfect-bound trade paperback
ISBN: 978-1942266198
First Edition
WildBlue Press
Evergreen, Colorado
Available HERE
Review by Al Kratz

From the first sentence of Pitfall by Cameron Bane, you know what you are in for: a page-turning, suspenseful, literary equivalent of a movie like Taken or Die Hard. “With a shriek of tortured metal, another bullet slashed by my face, tumbling, end for end, by the sound. Ricochet.” Pitfall isn’t a book of internal conflict—this is pure hero’s journey, straight into the lair, the moment of survival, the fight of good vs. evil. The first chapter begins with the hero in an impossible situation, trapped by the bad guy (awesomely named Boneless). Our hero is in a spot like Bruce Willis’ McClane without his shoes, like Liam Neeson’s Mills stuck in Paris with no realistic hope of finding his daughter. As the book takes a breath in the second chapter, we learn the story is being told by a former special-ops military man named John Brenner who will be hired to find a missing college student named Sarah. The enemy he finds is like no other I’ve read in books or seen in movies. It took me a week to read it, but only because I was on a personal non-heroic journey of getting my house ready for sale. Had this been a normal reading weekend, it would have been the kind of book I canceled plans for on Saturday, and then if necessary, did the same to finish reading it on Sunday.

Brenner is a unique character. He’s a former military man who led a group through a difficult and ultimately unsuccessful mission in Iraq. He has lost a wife, son, and daughter on the way. He is machismo, but he is an avid reader, a lover of movies and rare jazz and blues. He is a Renaissance man.

He is a realistic character but also a voice that takes a little getting used to. He likes his conventional similes and extreme metaphors. Brenner tells us of people who sound “as desolate as the back side of the moon.” A place is described as “busier than a fiddler’s convention.” A character he is interviewing has “sweat beading up and popping on his forehead like oil drops on a hot driveway.” Brenner concludes this man is “nervous as a whore in church.” When he talks about his love of classical music, he admits that “sometimes a hilljack can fool you with what he knows.” After a while, these sayings become classic Brenner sayings. I looked forward to them. I understood this was how Brenner related to things in the face of his impossible conflict. This was how he moved through the world. There is nothing unreal here. It may not be what I’m used to in traditional literary stories, but it surely is how a man like Brenner would tell his story. And above all of this, that story drives it all. We want Brenner to succeed. We want to find out what has happened to Sarah. We want good to win.

One of my favorites of the Brenner sayings had a funny echo of the recent Democratic debate where Martin O’Malley delivered a zinger, calling Donald Trump a carnival barker. “I’d just entered a dark carnival on a far bleak shore, and the mad barker had strapped me in for one hell of a ride.” Brenner is in a different carnival than a presidential election, but it shows how common, yet effective, these types of metaphors are.

Act two and three of the book are very effective. The true mystery that Brenner is facing is slowly and naturally revealed. The ending has a good combination of the unexpected and the realistic. There are no moments of tidy wrap-up—It all has a very organic flow. Even Brenner, himself, begins to change naturally. The way he describes things becomes smoother. The clipart comparisons are gone, replaced by ones more from the heart, more unique. He becomes more poetic at the end of his hero’s journey. Still, it’s the John Brenner way: “The slick dusted off, its noise like a million spoons rattling inside a thousand metal drums.” In a moment of peace, he sits outside describing that the “sky overhead was a ridiculously deep blue, graced with high, wispy clouds that looked for all the world like pulled-apart cotton candy.” I wondered if this smoother quality of Brenner was because Brenner was used to his journey and telling his story to the reader or whether Mr. Bane was used to the character and to writing him for us. Did Bane change Brenner or did Brenner change Bane? I suspect it was a bit of both? Either way is a nice effect of art and an enjoyable experience for the reader.

The story is not all external conflict. Just the choice to tell it from the first-person perspective showed Bane was interested in more from Brenner’s story. It makes the story robust. We never know what Liam’s character in Taken is thinking. We just know he is a badass that no one should mess with. We know Die Hard’s McClane can deliver a one-liner, but we get to know many of the internals of John Brenner. Even though his fight is center ring, the side rings don’t stay dark. We know his pain, his doubts, and his motivations. The last two books I read were extremely inner-conflict driven: Harry Crews’ All We Need of Hell and Amy Rowland’s The Transcriptionist. They are great companions to this read. It’s more enjoyable to combine these contrasting main character archetypes: the masculine, the feminine, the existential, and the pragmatic. There is room for them all and literature reaches its high watermarks only when this type of variety is explored.

The story makes another break from the traditional hero’s journey at the ending. It should be no spoiler to suggest our hero makes it out of the lair. His safety in the end is even more obvious when the story is in the hero’s first-person voice, but it takes another nice turn, by not just wrapping everything up tidy and then exiting. The pace throughout most parts of the story is very quick. Chapters are fairly short and often end with a little zinger, a taste of the rising stakes, and an appetizer for the next chapter advancing the action. But as our hero comes out of the lair, as he brings it all home, the pace changes. The last couple chapters are longer. They move slower. They bring you to a deserved ending, but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

PITFALL: First in the Suspense Thriller Series By Cameron Bane, featuring former Army Ranger and cop, John Brenner:

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After your review is posted, please email the date, site, and a link to it to: info [at] wildbluepress [dot] com.

Al Kratz is our Fiction Reviewer for The Volt. He is a writer from Des Moines, Iowa, an Assistant Fiction Editor at Pithead Chapel, and is currently working on a novel and a short story collection. He has had work featured in Red Savina Review, Wyvern Lit, Flash Flood, Daily Palette, Apeiron Review, Ardor Flash Fiction, 1000words, Gravel, Literary Orphans, and elsewhere, and he is the winner of the 2013 British Fantasy Society Flash Fiction Competition.

• This book was submitted by the publicist to Alternating Current for a book blog tour. The reviewer does not know the author or publicist and received the book from Alternating Current at random. • Permalink • Tag: The Volt •

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