singer's gun book coverReviewed by Cal C.

Emily St. John Mandel’s second novel, The Singer’s Gun, occupies an odd space in fiction. Though it has all the trappings of a gangster thriller, even featuring a man with a shady past called to do one last job, almost as soon as these conventions are established, they’re undermined, subverted or just plain thrown out. In fact, that’s the bulk of the book’s technique: told out of order in short, jittery bursts, The Singer’s Gun follows Anton Waker and his ex-secretary from well before they met to their final fates, jumping freely between the points to (successfully) manufacture drama and intensify the book’s numerous twists. Mandel’s frequent narrative deceptions do a good job highlighting the deceptions going on within the story itself.

The plot is simple: Anton Waker, a corporate drone with criminal ties in his past is blackmailed into a final, deceptively simple job for his cousin. That’s it. The story’s three parts are book-ended by an investigation we see play out through the narrative as Agent Broden investigates Anton and his cousin, Aria. This investigation also draws in Anton’s secretary, Elena. Broden and Aria are drawn a bit broad, neither character receiving the depth or the color Anton and Elena illustrate, though there are also some solid members in the supporting cast: though occasionally preachy, Anton’s parents are an excellent example of some of the book’s better supporting players.

For the most part, Emily St. John Mandel’s novel is an engrossing dramatic thriller. Her tendency to undercut everything through nonlinearity often works to great effect, but there are a few times it falls undeniably flat as a simple story takes on new complexities that don’t always feel organic. Still, despite this occasional lapse, The Singer’s Gun is on the whole a quick, enjoyable read, well-written and populated by a slim cast of interesting characters, albeit characters whose genuine motives are often kept purposely opaque. 

Some readers may be turned off by the frequent jumps through the story’s timelines, especially as tension builds and some supporting characters begin to feel more like cogs in a plot machine than like characters in their own right, but for the most part, Mandel has crafted a tight, enjoyable novel.

Cal is a young, underemployed librarian and a frequent contributor to Read/RANT comic book reviews.  He’s currently living in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, with his family and using the post-grad-school grace period to read and write as much as he can. 

This book was provided free of any obligation by Unbridled Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.