Book Review: ‘Devil’s Breath’ by Jon P. Wells

Devil's BreathDevil’s Breath by Jon P. Wells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was totally keen to read this novel because I live in Tasmania, the home base of the main character. It’s such a small and unassuming place that I was intrigued as much by the setting as by whatever connection there might be with Chernobyl… the blurb on the back cover had me hooked from the outset.

I was immediately drawn in by the set-up: Settings, characters, events… and impressed by Wells’use of language. The work is well edited, easy to read, with a liberal sprinkling of clever or beautiful gem phrases which caused me to pause just long enough to appreciate them, but not so long as to distract from the flow of the story. I liked that a lot.

It was great to read a novel that features my home environment, but the flipside of that is that I soon realised that perhaps I was not an intended reader. First was my disappointment a few Chapter 6 paragraphs about the joy of speeding on our local public roads. Speed mentality has long been a sensitive cultural problem for locals, and the dissonance sucked me right out of the story. More importantly for the story itself, it gave MacRae an element of bogan irresponsibility. Not Cool. MacRae’s character is alert and attuned to risk, and apparently respectful of life, so the attribute is not befitting. The moment is very well-written, but it’s not relevant to this particular story, so it would be better left out, without affecting how the scene unfolds. I was again sucked out of the story by Langworth having a 9mm automatic pistol on page 297: Nope. This book was published long after Australia’s now-famous gun control regulation was enacted following a significant Tasmanian incident, and every informed reader would want to know how any character would come to possess it here. A short explanation, or a change of weapon, would overcome this problem. All that said, presumably the target audience is American rather than Tasmanian/Australian, and at the time of publication Americans would probably not have noticed anything unusual.

[To be perfectly transparent, I agonised for a while over whether to include the above paragraph in my review because I also have plans to write for an American audience because that’s where my genre is popular. Therefore I appreciate the huge challenge of balancing the expectations of the audience, conventions of the genre and the norms of the settings. It’s not easy! So, overall, I think Wells did an amazing job of achieving that balance given this local only had two little things to whinge about.]

The rest of the story is interesting, with plenty of twists and turns, and enough clues to keep me wondering if I’d figured it out (which I had not). I especially like that Wells kept me a little distrustful, wondering if a character or two would double-cross MacRae. That is perhaps my favorite thing about the weaving of this story.

I found the plot very interesting, and I was impressed that Wells appeared to have included just the right amount of research to give plausible descriptions of places and events, and the writing itself was comfortable to read. I was more than happy for his words to be my eyes and ears on this journey, and would happily read more of his work.

In terms of plot criticisms, I had one moment of confusion about how the detonation logistics could be changed when the chief scientist read the final details hours after the countdown had begun. Perhaps it’s just that I missed it or didn’t understand it. To be fair though, the main focus is on MacRae’s efforts to solve the problem, and the book is not a how-to instruction manual for weapons of mass destruction.

I am glad to have found this book, and so glad to have found a fellow-Tasmanian writer whose word-weaving is so fluid. As a first novel, this book is awesome. I am very keen to read his next!

Kerri sign-off

View all my reviews at Goodreads

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