Thursday, August 4, 2016

Book Review: "Poisonfeather" by Matthew FitzSimmons

Last year, Matthew FitzSimmons took the literary thriller world by storm with his debut novel, The Short Drop. The story of Gibson Vaughn, convicted of hacking into a powerful congressman's files when he was a teenager, and his search for redemption (as well as his entanglement in a political mystery), that book was utterly fantastic and made my list of the best books I read in 2015.

Gibson Vaughn returns in Poisonfeather, FitzSimmons' newest thriller, and although this book is a little overly ambitious for its own good, FitzSimmons makes it clear he knows how to create memorable characters, ratchet up suspense, and write some pretty crackling action scenes.

Charles Merrick was a billionaire famous for bilking average citizens out of their fortunes in a scam similar to that of Bernie Madoff. (Merrick had nothing but disdain for Madoff, however, and felt his operations were much smoother and more sophisticated than Madoff's "Ponzi scheme.") For reasons no one following Merrick's case can understand, he was only sentenced to eight years in a minimum security prison, leaving countless people's lives destroyed by his greed.

As Merrick's release from prison draws closer, an interview he gives to a financial magazine draws quite a bit of attention, as it appears that he is hinting that he didn't actually lose all of the money he stole from his investors. This draws the ire of an unsavory cast of characters from all over the globe, and little by little, many of them converge on the small West Virginia town where Merrick's prison is located.

Vaughn is trying to rebuild his life after the events which occurred in The Short Drop, but with little success. He is summoned to meet with Hammond Birk, the judge who gave him the chance to join the Marines instead of sentencing him to prison for his crimes when he was younger. Judge Birk was among the victims Merrick swindled, and he convinced family members and those who worked for him to invest as well, with disastrous results. And although Birk does not want Vaughn to risk turning his life upside down to try and recover his money, Vaughn feels he owes the judge for the path he was able to take with his life, and begins building a plan to outsmart Merrick.

What Vaughn isn't expecting, however, is how many other people have similar ideas, and how dangerous they are. Not only does he have to contend with those he suspects have been helping Merrick from the inside and outside, he has to deal with the trigger-happy friend of Judge Birk's nephew, who got him involved in this whole scheme in the first place. And then there's a mysterious bartender, a Chinese government official with a passion for fly fishing, a band of dangerous thugs, a gang of criminals with a shoot-first-ask-questions-later philosophy, and the CIA. It's a little more than he bargained for, but all in the name of repaying a debt, right?

I love Vaughn's character, and thought there were a number of characters in this book that FitzSimmons drew quite well, and I hope that some of them might resurface in future books. Where Poisonfeather differed from The Short Drop is that the first book was really about Vaughn and his fight to clear his name, understand his past, and solve a mystery, while in this book, he often takes a back seat to other characters, some more interesting than others. I really felt at times there were just too many characters and too many side stories going on, and even though most of them were tied up by the end of the book, it made the plot more confusing and a little less solid.

FitzSimmons knows how to tell a story, there's no doubt about it. I just wish he trusted in his protagonist more and didn't try to overburden the plot with a gigantic cast of characters. And while it's fun to watch a greedy billionaire get his just desserts, the financial bent of this story took a little more time to explain. But at the end of the day, this is another strong thriller, full of tension, action, and a little emotion, all anchored by a pretty fantastic, complex, and flawed character. I'm looking forward to more from FitzSimmons and Gibson Vaughn in the future.

NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

No comments:

Post a Comment