So Many Doors by Oakley Hall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Did you ever hear the one about the farmer’s daughter and the bulldozer driver?
He ends up on Death Row for her murder! Ha! That’s a real knee-slapper, isn’t it?
Jack Ward is awaiting execution for the murder of his lover, Vassillia Baird a/k/a V. Even with an eager lawyer showing up to try and save his life Jack refuses to help and wants his death sentence carried out as soon as possible. The book then proceeds to tell us the long and tangled history of Jack and V. that led them both to their horrible fates.
The story of their doomed romance is related to us from the perspective of a series of people like V.’s father who hires the handsome Jack to remove some stumps from his farm, and then completely freaks out when he catches the two having sexy times together. Then Jack’s friend Ben details the early days of their relationship, and his own crush on V. complicates his feelings about how Jack treats her. We follow this pattern with several other people they cross paths with over the years to see how they become a self-destructive pair that manage to do tremendous damage to each other and almost everyone around them over time.
That structure is the really intriguing part of this with Oakley Hall spending as much time on the characters telling us the tale as he does on Jack and V. By building up the supporting players and then having them watch the evolution of Jack and V.’s love affair it gives a reader the experience of starting from the perspective of an outsider looking into their relationship. Yet over time since we know history that others don’t we begin to understand how they both end up where they do and why they keep coming together even though they often make each other desperately unhappy.
Another element I liked is that this story is mainly set among a nomadic group of heavy equipment operators as they roam from job to job through the Great Depression, during World War II, and then beyond. Following a bunch of blue collar guys driving bulldozers and graders doesn’t sound that interesting, but the routine details of their work and lives reminded me of Steinbeck while the settings of run down farms, cheap rooming houses, noisy bars, and various job sites came fully alive while reading.
This is yet another Hard Case Crime novel that isn’t exactly a hard case crime novel. Yeah, there’s a murder and a guy on Death Row, but it’s really a tragic love story filled with great writing and solid character work. So it feels a little bit like a bait-and-switch although I still liked it quite a bit.
I’d give it 3.5 stars if Goodreads let us, but….well, you know.
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