Starving Review: The New Lease by John Stryder

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The New Lease by John Stryder (Amazon, Goodreads)

I’ve been collecting literary tidbits in my pantry for long enough now to gobble up my fair share of political thrillers.  I’ve had them spicy, flavorful, and bland, enough varieties that I suspected I had sampled everything the genre had to offer.  That was awfully foolish of me, because Mr. Stryder has offered up a definitely different recipe with The New Lease.  The question remains, though, if different is good.

Before we find out, let us remember the Starving Review manifesto:

  1. I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre
  2. I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible

There are some big ideas brought to the kitchen with Lease that definitely differentiate it.  There is a certain focused supernatural/metaphysical element added to the otherwise starkly realistic modern world of the book, one that adds (dare I say it!  I DARE!) a new lease on what can sometimes be a formulaic genre.  Now, introducing a wild card element like this could still go wrong, but Mr. Stryder keeps it wrangled, carefully controlled by a set series of rules and built up to wonderfully in the book itself.

There’s more to it than this supernatural dash of spice.  The structure and style of Lease is intriguing.  The entire first half of the book is essentially split in twain, with alternating chapters building the backstory of the antagonist (though we don’t know it at the time), while working through the plot with the protagonist.  While not a unique technique, it’s one that can be easily tripped over by an incautious chef, but Stryder pulls it off perfectly and it only serves to heighten the mystery and tension until we find out what these mystery chapters are actually about.

On a more conventional critical front, the characters, especially the protagonist and antagonist are built up extremely well.  Especially our ‘antagonist’, because he is an excellent example of a kind of character that is often mishandled in other recipes: the character who has lofty, well-meaning goals, but contemplates horrific methods.  Often, these character types are presented in a certain ham-handed …. mmm, ham … fashion, but Jonas’ arguments and approach are so nuanced, intelligent, and well-researched that he becomes a vague, gray area.

I have only two real criticisms of Lease.  First, much like some of the other political thrillers I have nibbled on, Lease‘s pacing is a bit uneven at the beginning, as it requires a fair amount of exposition (very well researched exposition, I might add) to establish both the politics and the characters.  This is somewhat understandable in this genre, so is only a minor concern.

Of a bit more concern with me was the last course of the meal, the denouement.  This will be hard to speak of without being SPOILERY, but I can best sum it up as that this was the conclusion I would expect from a book series with a strong meta-plot, not the ending of a stand-alone novel such as this.  It concludes the surface conflict, but leaves a tremendous amount of the real core conflict of the book wide open.  While I respect that this is a book that could work with some threads open … in fact thematically it would demand it … it’s just TOO open.  It doesn’t ruin the meal, but it left me feeling a bit hollow and definitely wanting at the end, not something I enjoy.

Still, despite a few rough edges, The New Lease remains as an excellent thriller souffle with a dash of supernatural spice, though it deflates a bit at the end.  Despite that final chapter, I highly recommend this tasty treat to any fan of the thriller or anyone interested in something that looks deeply at the world as it is unflinchingly.  I would still recommend it to others as well, just be forewarned that you might be a bit disappointed with the very end of the story.  I look forward to more baking from Mr. Stryder’s kitchen!

FINAL VERDICT: **** (An excellent thriller souffle with a dash of supernatural spice, though it deflates a bit at the end!)

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