Thursday, May 20, 2010

'The Singer's Gun'

by Emily St. John Mandel
Fiction, 2010
Unbridled Books, ebook, 304 p.
Blurb from Unbridled Books:
Everyone Anton Waker grew up with is corrupt. His parents deal in stolen goods and his first career is a partnership venture with his cousin Aria selling forged passports and social security cards to illegal aliens. Anton longs for a less questionable way of living in the world and by his late twenties has reinvented himself as a successful middle manager. Then a routine security check suggests that things are not quite what they appear. And Aria begins blackmailing him to do one last job for her. But the seemingly simple job proves to have profound and unexpected repercussions.

As Anton’s carefully constructed life begins to disintegrate around him, he’s forced to choose between loyalty to his family and his desires for a different kind of life. When everyone is willing to use someone else to escape the past, it is up to Anton, on the island of Ischia, to face the ghosts that travel close behind him.

Emily St. John Mandel follows up her electric debut with a spellbinding novel of international crime, false identities, the depths and limits of family ties, and the often confusing bonds of love. Taut with suspense, beautifully imagined, full of unexpected corners, desperate choices, betrayals and halftruths with deadly consequences, The Singer’s Gun explores the dangerous territory between one’s moral compass and the heart’s desire.
I really enjoyed Emily Mandel’s debut novel Last Night in Montreal, so I was looking forward to reading her new book, and I was not at all disappointed. This is the story of a man trying to escape his past and live an ordinary life, but his past starts to catch up with him, and the life he has sought, is not quite all that he imagined it would be. It’s also about creating one’s identity, and love, and family, and how much one is willing to sacrifice to hang on to them.

Emily Mandel is a fabulous storyteller! I love how she weaves the various strands of the story together. Each chapter gives us another piece of the puzzle, either adding to what we’ve already surmised or forcing us to reevaluate our expectations. She cleverly brings all the pieces together making for a compelling, suspenseful read, right to the end. I’d actually call it half literary novel, half quiet thriller. It’s not overly fast-paced or action-filled, but it is still very much a page-turner, and when the moments of tension did occur, they were all the more significant for the waiting in between. Don’t get me wrong though, there’s mystery and intrigue, and it’s never slow or boring. In fact, I was reading this as an ebook on my iPhone, and usually I save those for commuting, but with The Singer’s Gun I couldn’t help myself and continued reading it at home too. I simply didn’t want to put it down.

I guess my only minor complaint would be that I kind of wished some of the minor characters had been a little more fleshed out, especially the detective involved in searching for Anton. I felt like I didn’t really get to know her. Anton, though, was a great character, flawed and complex, just as I like them to be. All in all, another wonderful novel by Emily Mandel. So that’s two for two. Two books, both of which, I have thoroughly enjoyed. I sure hope she’s already hard at work on her next one.
Anton’s father was willing to put down his book to have a conversation if he saw Anton hovering around, but there were two or three hours after dinner when his mother was lost to them; she read with all of herself, immersed, breathing language, and couldn’t be reached until she was ready to emerge.
My Rating: 4/5

Emily Mandel's website
Listen to Emily Mandel read from The Singer's Gun.
Emily Mandel interview with BookPage
Emily Mandel interview with Beyond the Margins
Emily's music playlist for The Singer's Gun

Thank you to Caitlin of Unbridled Books and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book.

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The small print:  This ebook was received free of charge from the publisher for review purposes.   Links in this post to Amazon (including book cover) or The Book Depository contain my Associates or Affiliates ID respectively.  Purchases made via these links earn me a very small commission.  For more information please visit my About Page.


  1. Glad to see you also liked this book! I had the same minor complaint - but Emily left a comment that she was forced to cut some of the minor character development in that explains why we were feeling that way! Overall, though, a really good book, I thought.

  2. I keep hearing great things about this novel. Thank you for a wonderful review.

  3. I really want to read this book but haven't found it yet. I'm planning on picking up a copy this week actually :) Great review!

  4. I keep wanting to read something by her, but still haven't actually done so. By the sounds I really must!

  5. I had the same exact feelings about the detective...wish her story would've been expanded some more!

  6. I had the chance to read and review this one as well and really liked it. I wouldn't have minded knowing more of what was going on in the life of the detective too, although I figured it had more to do with the novel not really being her story. So, I found Wendy's comment interesting. I can't help but wonder if the editor had left it alone, would it have been better?


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