Thanks to Tracee Gleichner at Pump Up Your Book Promotion for the opportunity to read and review this book!
A Jolly Good Fellow
Stephen V. Masse
Good Harbor Press, 2007 (paperback) (ISBN 097996380X / 9780979963803)
First sentence: He’s out there hitchhiking.
Comments: For some time now, Duncan Wagner has been planning to kidnap the son of State Rep. Win Booker, the man he despises most in the world. The day he acts on the plan happens to be the same day that the boy, 11-year-old Gabriel, decides to run away from home, and Duncan picks him up hitchhiking. Duncan has no intention of harming the boy – he just wants to keep him long enough to make his parents nervous enough to pay $100,000 to get him back by Christmas, and he really needs the money. He’s an odd-job kind of guy, and his current occupation as a street-corner “charity Santa Claus” (with himself as sole beneficiary) won’t keep him going past the next couple of weeks.
Gabriel, for his part, doesn’t seem to mind being kidnapped or the prospect of spending a few days in Duncan’s Boston apartment, as long as he believes that Duncan won’t hurt him and that he’ll be home for Christmas, although he’s not entirely confident his father will pay the ransom.
Duncan and Gabriel are both engaging, believably flawed characters, and the unlikely bond that develops between them is what makes A Jolly Good Fellow a fast, enjoyable read. Gabriel is a bright, curious, mostly sweet kid, and Duncan is lonely and generally well-meaning, regardless of his small-time criminality. The story of their adventure together is sometimes predictable, but at other times it kept me guessing; while I had my suspicions about Duncan’s motivation about halfway through the book (and they turned out to be correct), the author doesn’t tip his hand to reveal it until almost the very end.
The story is narrated in Duncan’s voice, and Stephen Masse has made him a very convincing and believable character, even if the story itself is a bit less so. The characters captured my sympathies, I was eager to see what happened to them, and I was ultimately satisfied with the outcome. I plan to add A Jolly Good Fellow to the stack of books I bring out every Christmas; without preachiness or a heavy hand, it’s a fine story for the holiday season – or any other time of year.
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