An unreliable narrator isn’t often used in a thriller, perhaps because it requires a great deal of skill to keep a reader engaged once it’s clear the “hero” is anything but. John Grisham did it well in “The Racketeer”. Now British writer Rob Sinclair joins him with “Dark Fragments”.
“Dark Fragments” is a departure for Sinclair, who has previously written tense third person spy thrillers about secret agent Carl Logan. This, his first book for crime publisher Bloodhound, is told in the first person by Ben Stephens. At first, management consultant Ben seems a nice, ordinary guy. He adores his children and his wife. Yes, he’s down in the dumps, but who wouldn’t be in his situation? After all, he’s being threatened by gangsters over a soured business deal, he’s haunted by the unsolved murder of his first wife, and his career has plateaued. We can all imagine struggling with that kind of baggage.
This is where Rob Sinclair is very clever. Having made us sympathise with the man, perhaps even identify with him, alarm bells ring as Ben takes extreme actions to solve his problems. Rash and impulsive, he resorts to infidelity and violence, all the while seeing himself as a victim. The level of self-justification is such that the dramatic finale of the book is easy to believe, although it still comes as a surprise.
Sinclair’s style is pacy, energetic and liberally punctuated with cliff hangers. In consequence, “Dark Fragments” is a quick read, which leaves the lingering feeling that the ordinary people you meet every day may not be quite what they seem.
“Dark Fragments” is set in Birmingham, England. I also write crime thrillers that are (at least partly) set in the city and I very much enjoyed Rob Sinclair’s descriptions of its swanky and seedy areas. Do you like to read about places you know? Email me at aaabbottstories[at]gmail.com.