When I finished Unspeakable, my first instinct was to take it to the bookstore and get my money back (which I still intend to do). As I’ve been trying to write this review, analyzing why I didn’t like this book, I keep finding myself thinking, “Well, I guess it wasn’t that awful.” The best I can say is that it doesn’t live up to some of Brown’s previous work which, in my opinion, was tense, exciting, and extremely suspenseful – I found Unspeakable predictable and a little slow.
First, a brief summary. Convicted killer Carl Herbold escapes from prison along with his extremely mentally challenged buddy, Myron. This affects several lives, among them Carl’s step-father, Delray Corbett, who never could handle Carl; Ezzy Hardge, the retired sheriff with an unsolved murder on his conscience; and our hero, a drifter named Jack, who turns up on the Corbett farm at just the right time. Each of these men have stories which tie them to Carl, but Brown takes too long telling them, especially where the sheriff is concerned. As Carl works his way home to Blewer, Texas, the town wonders when, or if, he is coming to get them. The lives of Ezzy, Delray and his daughter-in-law Anna, Jack, and Carl’s brother Cecil Herbold, are all set on a collision course. There’s also a minor subplot about some developers who want to get their hands on the Corbett ranch.
As for the heroine, Brown deviated a little – Anna is deaf. While initially hostile to mysterious drifter Jack, Anna eventually gets to know him. She is a strong woman who, with a few special pieces of equipment, functions just as well as any hearing person. Turns out Jack Sawyer is there to protect Anna and her son in case Carl shows up. Jack has a nice relationship with Anna’s son, and her father-in-law eventually decides to trust him. Jack can also be a mean son-of-a-gun when he needs to be, as he proves to someone who tries to set him up to get him out of their way. Jack’s tie to the old murder is revealed with a neat twist at the end, as well as why he thought he had to try to protect Delray.
The villains, however, are cardboard characters who have absolutely no complexity to their psyches. They’re just evil, and they think they are incredibly smart (I thought they were just the opposite). Carl’s main objective: revenge, of course, and to get to Mexico. The bank man trying to help the developers is also a minor villain, but he’s just slimy, not evil.
One other minor problem I had was the sheriff’s 20-year-old obsession with an unsolved murder. I imagine that it would bother me if I were in his position, it might even consume me, if I had no clue who the murderer was. But Ezzy Hardge believed the murderers were the Herbold brothers, one of whom was in prison. So maybe he might have been less consumed by it if he believed the murderers, or one of them anyway, were in jail?
I recently heard Brown say that she went mainstream so that she could do more with her characters, so I guess I had the idea that this book would be different. With the exception of the heroine, it wasn’t. The story, as I said earlier, wasn’t completely bad. Brown does a slow build to her climax (which was a little anticlimactic because it isn’t that hard to see how it will turn out). The revelation about who Jack really is is a good one, though. I didn’t see that one coming.
I just kept waiting for things to happen in this book. I advise you wait for the paperback on this one. I wish I had.