The Last Thing I Remember – Homelanders #1

Homelanders

Author: Andrew Klavan

Publication: 2009, Thomas Nelson

Pages: 352

Overall Rating: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]                       

Rating for Action: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary:  Charlie West wakes up on morning to find himself strapped to a chair in a concrete room.  He’s covered in blood and bruises and has no memory of how he got there.  All he remembers is going to bed in his room after a seemingly ordinary day.  Now he’s trapped in a nightmare.  If he can’t find a way to escape and figure out what happened to him, that nightmare will end in his death.

Age of Main Character: 17

What I Liked the Most: Klavan does a great job of bringing Charlie alive and making him into a gripping and utterly believable character.  His intense fear, his nostalgia for a life that seems to have been ripped from him in the dead of night, his refusal to give in – it all leaps off the page and straight into your brain.  Charlie West becomes like a living, breathing person fighting for his life right next to you.

And Klavan doesn’t skimp on the supporting cast either.   Many of the secondary characters that Charlie comes into contact with over the course of the book are equally rich and lifelike.  And whether it’s a concrete torture chamber, a dank underground cave, or a crumbling apartment building, the settings are just as alive as the characters in this book and provide a rich background to the action.

 

Finally, I liked the way Klavan kept dropping little clues about what might have happened to Charlie without giving away the truth – or what portion of the truth is revealed in book one at any rate – until very near the end.  It gave me the opportunity to keep guessing until the last possible second.

What I Liked the Least: Like Klavan, I don’t want to reveal too much in this review, but there is something that you need to know.  For more or less the first third of book, Klavan flips back and forth from the present day – with Charlie fighting to escape from the torture  chamber where he woke up – to the last day he remembers.  I understand the importance of bringing the details of that last day to light, both because it’s essential to Charlie’s backstory and because it provides a clear sense of just how radically his life has changed, but the effect is incredibly jarring.  One moment you’re caught up in the adrenaline rush of an escape attempt – with fists flying, feet pounding and guards closing in on all sides – and the next moment you find yourself in a long drawn out chapter about Charlie’s karate class or how he managed to get a phone number from this girl he really likes.  The contrast doesn’t work, and each time the story moved back and forth it felt very disorienting.

Charlie is über patriotic.  I love America as much as the next person, but sometime this book just goes over the top.  In one scene, Charlie is feeling all woozy after crashing a truck.  There are gun toting thugs rushing towards him.  For a moment he loses the will to go on, and his thoughts drift back to his family and friends.  Okay, I can buy that.  He’s exhausted and believes he might die so his thoughts go to the ones he loves.  That’s natural.  But when he starts thinking , “I lived in a wonderful, free country where I could say what I wanted and do what I wanted” and waxing poetic about how great it is to be an American, that’s where I lost it.  No way does that feel even remotely realistic.  And it happens way too often.

Part of Klavan’s writing style seems to involve a lot of unnecessary word repetition, and times that really distracted me from an otherwise great story.  To give you just a few examples: “The forest seemed suddenly alive with noise – with noise and danger.”  (p. 113)   “He sighed again.  Cursed again.” (p. 123)  “I lay a long time in the absolute darkness, absolutely still.”  (p. 123) And “Sort of looking at my hand, sort of turning my hand this way and that.” (p. 125)

Finally, and this is a very minor point, but everyone seems to refer to Charlie as a punk.  The people who were torturing him call him a punk, the cops call him a punk, a thug he runs into on the street calls him a punk.  It seems to be the word of choice for everyone who doesn’t like him.

How Good was the Action?  Over the top excellent.  This is some serious pulse pounding action.  You can literally feel the truck rolling when Charlie crashes, hear the baying of the bloodhound as it tracks his scent, and feel the impact as he punches someone in gut.  The action literally jumps off the page and smacks you in the face.  And there’s no shortage of action either.  The novel starts out fast, and with the exception of the flashbacks to the last day Charlie remembers it rarely lets up.

How Engaging was the Story?  Another reviewer referred to this as “24” for teens, and I can’t think of a more apt way to describe it.  The pace is relentless – with the exception of the jarring flashbacks in the early part of the book – and the story is compressed into a very short period of time.

However, because of those flashbacks the first third of this book was easier for me to put down.  To put it another way, I read the first 75 pages on day one with a lot of stops and starts, but I finished it on day two.  Busy as my schedule is, that’s just about unheard of.  So yeah, it kept my attention.

 Overall Assessment: Klavan has written a fast-paced thriller with a strong central character and some great action.  Outside of the jarring flashback scenes early in the book and some moments of frankly over-the-top patriotic bluster, it’s a fun read that really sets the stage for the next book in the series.   So if you don’t mind mixing a bit of politics into your fiction, this could be a great book to check out.

Profanity: None.

Sex: None.

Violence: Yes.  True to his beliefs, Charlie never tries to use more force than is necessary and even saves a person that he probably should have let die.  But he’s been placed in a violent and dangerous situation and so violence is part of the book.  That said, even though plenty of people are shooting at Charlie, most of the actual violence is limited to fist fights and there’s very little blood.  This is not in any way a gory or graphic book.

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