Grant McKenzie, Scottish-Canadian author of thriller crime fiction, has just released his second novel, No Cry For Help. His debut, Switch, was a genuine page turner and introduced McKenzie as a master of suspense, with a knack for timing and delivery. Combined with fast-paced action and short cliff-hanger chapters, Switch grips the reader to the very last syllable. The plot follows Sam White and Zack Parker, an unlikely pair of heroes, as they pit their wits against a diabolical villain who has kidnapped their families. Though he has demanded a ransom of one million dollars, the kidnapper isn’t particularly interested in the money. His object, rather than profit, is to push his victims until they break. It is not long before Sam and Zack realize that the kidnapper is seeking retribution for an offense that connects them in their past; as they attempt to solve the mystery of the event that connects them, the two men are required to perform a series of rapidly escalating criminal acts if they are ever to see their families again. Worse, these acts are meticulously designed to attack the very things the heroes hold dearest and of which they are most proud. The reader is drawn in by sheer momentum as the characters are forced to re-evaluate their own standards of integrity and ethical behaviour. As the characters’ morals are relentlessly compromised, the reader must also wonder (as the novel’s tagline demands), “How far would you go to save the ones you love?”
Although the novel’s plot keeps the reader engaged, McKenzie sacrifices character development and occasionally tests his readers’ willing suspension of disbelief in order to maintain the pace. Neither of his heroes are presented with much complexity: they are angry and afraid, but there is little depth in the portrayal of these emotions. McKenzie also struggles with his female character, Jasmine Parker. Although we are told that she has read books about psychology and we watch her efforts to intellectually (and occasionally physically) best her assailants, she ultimately plays the role of ‘protective mother’ and little more.
McKenzie has more success with his second novel, No Cry For Help. Once again, he presents us with an ordinary guy who is forced into extraordinary circumstances. This ‘ordinary guy’ is Canadian bus driver, Wallace Carver. The novel begins with Carver and his family on a weekend shopping trip to the United States. Carver sends his wife and two sons ahead to the shops to take advantage of the sales, using the excuse of an injured leg to indulge in coffee and pastries while he waits for his shoppers to return. When his family fails to make their appointed rendezvous, Carver panics and turns to the American police. The police find no trace of the missing woman and children; in fact, Carver discovers that someone has gone to great pains to make it appear that he crossed the border alone. When the authorities prove ineffectual and no ransom is demanded, Carver takes matters into his own hands. Again, a terrifying chain of events is set in motion as Carver fights for their lives… and for his own.
Once more, McKenzie demonstrates his gift for adrenalin-driven action and unexpected plot twists. However, No Cry For Help goes much further in terms of character development, particularly of his hero. There are moments of genuine humour and camaraderie between Carver and those who assist him on his quest. Carver’s inner life is much more evolved than the characters we meet in Switch; McKenzie’s presentation of this character’s confusion and conflicting emotions allow the reader to become more emotionally invested in the events as they occur. McKenzie does not quite escape the limitations of stock characters in the creation of his villains, but again he uses those characters well.
All in all, McKenzie’s forays into the arena of crime fiction are promising. Both novels will scratch the itch of any thrill junkie; No Cry For Help is particularly satisfying. As McKenzie really begins to hit his stride, it will be interesting to see what he comes out with next!