Thursday, June 20, 2013

Aric Davis Makes A Stake In The Fort

The Fort by Aric Davis
In his most tightly written thriller to date, author Aric Davis sets his newest story to work in the unsuspecting suburbs of Grand Rapids, Michigan. It's the summer of 1987 and sports have taken a back seat for three local boys. They have bigger plans with the inheritance of scrap wood from an old deck.

After building a fort almost 20 feet off the ground of a small unclaimed patch of forest, Tim, Scott and Luke intended to play Vietnam snipers with their air rifles all summer. It was a sign of the times. Oliver Stone's Platoon and Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket sparked a resurgence in Vietnam war movies.

This time around, Americans had finally come to terms with a conflict they had largely shunned for more than a decade. The soldiers were finally being cast as heroes until the movies made in the 1970s.

Naturally, the three boys don't make the connection. It lurks just under the surface, much like something else that was happening in the 1980s. Parents were becoming aware that their children were venerable.

A bottle cap defense system was meant to keep the boys safe. 

To keep the boys safe, each one carries a different bottle cap that they can place on the lowest ladder rung before climbing up. If any of them hear noises from the fort but don't see a bottle cap, they can cautiously retreat. Unfortunately, everyone's concern for safety in the forest turns out to be misplaced.

It is Molly Peterson who doesn't return home from a drive-in one night. The only explanation offered up by her friends, including Tim's sister, is that she was last seen making out with a boy that nobody knew. Molly disappeared shortly after, leaving them surprised but not worried. They aren't alone either.

Theaters from Grand Rapids history
The truth is no one would have given a second thought so soon if a teenager decided to break curfew under normal circumstances. But these circumstances weren't normal. There has been a series of murders downtown and the police would rather be safe than sorry.

The detective assigned to the case, Dick Van Endel, sees it differently. After speaking to Molly's friends, Van Endel becomes convinced she had run off. They might all have the same story, but they all sound too rehearsed. Besides, Molly doesn't fit the modus operandi. The killer targets prostitutes.

Van Endel is just about to write the case off as a waste of time when two things happen. From the safety of their fort, the boys catch a glimpse of a would-be kidnapper holding a gun on the missing girl. And then a few hours later, the police discover a days-old body behind the drive-in presumed to be the girl.

Since both accounts can't be accurate, the detective is forced to make a choice. Either he pursues the leads left near the dead body or he takes a leap of faith and follows up with the boys. The wrong choice has consequences. It's only a matter of time before the killer strikes again or, if the boys are right, kills the missing teenager.

Aric Davis continues to make strides in his craft as a novelist to watch.

Although there is a tightness to the writing that Aric Davis has been working to master, it comes with some sacrifice this time. By alternating between the boys, killer and detective, some of the suspense is stripped away as the story unfolds. The reader knows too much, but without getting to know the characters.

Aric Davis
While there are hints of who the principal players are throughout the book, none of them are as fully developed as those who populated A Good And Useful Hurt or even Rough Men. The closest anyone comes to seeing his thoughtfulness shine through is Detective Van Endel, a character who plays a supporting role in other books too. He is not the protagonist, but we start to understand the decisions he will make later even if we don't understand what made him so coolly aloof in the first place.

With the much-loved grit gone and a sense of purpose missing in the plot, The Fort wants to be several things and never becomes any of them. What's left is a well-told and tightly crafted story that is entertaining by all accounts. It's not his best story, but it is Davis's best writing and certainly worth a read this summer.

The Fort By Aric Davis Climbs 6.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

With four books to his credit and a serial being written, Davis has come into his own as a writer. His storytelling is always interesting and fresh, even when he succumbs to rushing his endings. The Fort will certainly be a must-read for any fan, another opportunity to hang out with an authentic voice.

The Fort by Aric Davis can be found on Amazon. You can also order the book in its trade paperback form from Barnes & Noble. Although not available for iBooks, Nick Podehl narrates the audiobook available on iTunes. Podehl infuses something reminiscent of Stand By Me for a different generation's qualities when the story is grounded on the three kids. It might have gone in that direction, but the point of view splits keep it from being a coming-of-age story. Visit Davis at his site too.
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