Why anyone would care about Simon Burchwood’s meteoric rise I’m not sure, but I certainly did. I couldn’t stop turning the pages to find out what amazing, stupid, or appalling thing Simon might do next. It’s true, as Simon, our narrator, says time after time in his memoir, The Meteoric Rise of Simon Burchwood.
Simon has always wanted to be a famous writer – not just a writer, but a famous one – yet fate has him working a dull job at TechForce, in Austin, Texas. Actually, he does as little for his employer as possible, preferring to use his company computer to work on his great novel, It’s true.
Simon is not an appealing man—not in appearance as he describes himself, not in his personality, and not in his behavior. Yet we are hooked on his adventures and what comes out of his mouth.
He is supposed to be flying to New York to read a passage from his soon-to-be-published novel, The Rise and Fall of a Titan, at Barnes & Noble’s flagship store, but he stops off in his hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, to visit his best friend, Jason, whom he hasn’t seen since he was 16. They have stayed in touch through, amazingly enough, letters.
Some of the best scenes in the book come when Simon interacts with strangers. He inevitably starts out thinking a person is nice, clever, a genius even, then ends up hating them—all in one short encounter.
As an example, here’s part of his encounter with an airport bartender:
Bartender: “That drink’s on the house," he said, pointing to my cocktail.
Simon: “Thank you for your generosity." Can you fucking believe it? Wow, he was a professional, a real topnotch bartender. I have known many bartenders in my time but he was one of the slickest.”
And later in the conversation:
Bartender: “Being that I work in an airport, I meet lots of famous types. Singers, actors, politicians, reporters, disc jockeys, athletes, porn stars, you name it. But I ain't never met no writer before. Come to think of it, I don't even know what writers look like.”
Simon: "That's a shame. Writers should be like rock stars in our society. They should be revered," I said. And I meant it too.
Bartender: "That's funny. That's like saying everyone should recognize chess masters or cyclists or physicists or inventors. Nobody cares about writers just like nobody cares about those other types. No offense."
Simon: "None taken." Actually, that really pissed me off. I mean, who the fuck did he think he was anyway? I was the one with a publishing deal. He was stuck in an airport bar serving swill to his high-class clientele, the nose-picking barflies.”
And his encounters continue with his about-faces: the ticket agent, the flight attendant, a friend from high school, Jason’s wife, the girl he had a crush on in high school; not even Jason escapes his excoriation. It’s true.
And did I mention that he was cheap and a shameless self-promoter? For example, he passes out his business card to just about everyone he runs into and tells them: " . . . you can leave me a tip by going to my web site at www.simonburchwood.com and clicking the Submit button on the gratuity web page." He takes all major credit cards. It’s true.
Simon is such a character that I couldn’t wait to find what he did next.
But I wasn’t at all prepared for the surprising conclusion.
The Magpie’s Secret
By G.J. Lau
$0.99 at Smashwords.com
G.J. Lau has written a thriller with romance, politics, family complications, and, of course, secrets.
Frank Martinelli is an ordinary guy, if you take into account the effects a tour in Vietnam in his 20s and the disappearance of his daughter on her way back to college 20 years ago will have on a man. He lives in a pleasant town not far from Washington, D.C., where he worked for the Office of Management and Budget until he retired. His inability to get past the disappearance of their daughter resulted in divorce, although he and his ex-wife are still friendly.
Frank lives above a bar, and the bar’s owner and one of the bartenders are like family to him. He makes extra spending money by helping out at a funeral home when they need an extra usher, parking attendant, or pallbearer, and at a car dealer shuttling vehicles from one dealership to another.
All in all, his life is pretty mundane, and his schedule is predictable. Until one afternoon when a man asks to join him as he’s eating lunch outside at a neighborhood restaurant. That conversation turns Frank’s well-ordered life upside down.
The “stranger” turns out to be Thomas Clayton, who served briefly with Frank in Vietnam. When Thomas left the Army, he took what he had learned and became an assassin for hire. Thomas is essentially retired now and only takes special assignments. He tells Frank that someone tried to hire him to kill him. Thomas declined (seeing as how they had been Army buddies and Frank had done him a good turn), but the contract is still being shopped, and someone without Thomas’s scruples could easily take it up.
Although at first Frank can’t imagine why someone would to have him killed, paranoia becomes a constant companion, particularly after his ex-wife Emily’s condo is broken into.
Not long after Frank’s daughter disappeared, he had volunteered at a teen hotline and talked frequently with one particular young woman. He sensed that she was being sexually molested, but he had no proof. When he reads in the paper that a teen-ager named Rachel Meadows has been killed in an auto accident on the eve of her 16th birthday, he puts it together with his hotline client. Because he feels guilty, he goes to the funeral, even though he doesn’t know the family. Rachel’s mother, Catherine, thinks it odd that a stranger is at her daughter’s funeral and seeks him out. They talk briefly, and she senses Frank knows something about Rachel he’s not saying.
Twenty years pass; Frank finds out he’s the target of an assassin; Rachel Meadows’ father dies; and Frank is asked to work the parking lot at his funeral. Catherine sees him, remembers him from her daughter’s funeral, and seeks him out. They talk again.
Catherine’s son Adam is running for political office, and Frank volunteers to work on the campaign. He likes politics, but he also wonders if Adam knows about Rachel’s abuse and the contract on him.
Just to make matters complicated, Frank is falling romantically for Catherine; he actually likes Adam, and he’s getting warnings from different sources about the contract on him.
Lau has created believable characters, including our protagonist, who finds himself in an unfathomable position as the target of an assassin. I was engaged from the moment I began reading until the end, which is unexpected and satisfying.
– Davilynn Furlow