Wednesday, February 04, 2015
by Patrick Oster
(Argo-Navis / 0-7867-5597-0 / 978-0-7867-5597-4 / July 2014 / 252 pages / $21.95 paperback / $18.05 Amazon / $2.99 Kindle)
The Commuter is one of the better books I have reviewed at PODBRAM. Its author is considerably more experienced at writing than the average author reviewed on this site, and the talent shows. Patrick Oster has quite a resume as a journalistic writer. You can read Mr. Oster's detailed history at his website linked below. He has been a lifelong professional journalist and he is currently a managing editor at Bloomberg News. He traditionally published a nonfiction book entitled The Mexicans some years ago. This is his first modern POD novel. He has already released another later last year and his next fiction work is planned for 2015.
Barnaby Gilbert loses his job as a corporate efficiency expert, but his long standing at the company provides him a generous severance package. The quiet worker bee and widower has spent his hobby time as a bird watcher and model train engineer, so he comes up with a new way to enjoy his time away from the grindstone. He decides to begin tracking, photographing, and studying the familiar faces he has been riding the commuter trains with for many years. He even takes notes and keeps computer files on these other commuters. Some people would call it stalking. What he is actually doing is impersonating either Barney Fife on a stakeout or Inspector Clouseau chasing a mysterious Pink Panther. How you the reader pictures Mr. Gilbert in your mind is up to your own imagination, but these two familiar suggestions should send you in a memorable direction. The FBI, NSA, a ring of organized criminals, and a few other unexpected characters have trouble figuring out the mysterious Mr. Gilbert's origin and motives, too. Therein lies the story.
The Commuter was definitely a fun book to read. Unlike a few other descriptions of the plot I have read, I did not find the story funny or the lead character a hapless dupe. Although Barnaby Gilbert is duped a few times in the storyline, I still felt as if there was a careful crafting of the character study underneath the surface. Although I did not chuckle even once as I read, I kept turning those pages with delightful expectations. In short, I was very impressed with the storyline and the quick pacing of the plot. If I have any complaint, it is with the brevity of the story. I would have enjoyed the book more if it had been twice as long with much more detail.
For the authors and longtime readers of PODBRAM, I have to say that I could identify this book as a POD from a mile away, and for most of the same old reasons. I like the cover and the back cover blurb is appropriate, but as soon as I get to the copyright page and see the big size-twelve font, I know it is a POD book. I know it from the print date and location in the back, too, but that is inescapable. The big problem is the usual lack of meticulous proofreading with human eyes. The Spell Check and Grammar Check hit me in the face on just about every other page. The average Amazon buyer may not notice, and as usual, this paragraph will not included in the Amazon review. However, this author with all his experience and his team of aides should be able to carefully and properly proofread this short book. You see, those software programs do not notice when a real word is substituted for another real word, even when the substitute is incorrect or inappropriate. The proofing errors absolutely did not prevent me from thoroughly enjoying this book. However, POD books do not go out of print. These amateurish errors will be there for every reader to see. With a little formatting on the copyright page and a thorough reading of the final manuscript, this book could have been a true jewel. As is, I give it an easy four stars. Get with the program. Dump that full-service POD publisher and release your next books with CreateSpace. You know what they say: if you want something done right, do it yourself. As with iUniverse and the others, the retail price is too high to ever sell more than a few copies in print and this story deserves better.
If you enjoy quick fiction reads, this book is for you. It is sort of a comedy of errors and sort of an extended stakeout. It is definitely a quality character study without ever being verbose.
See Also: Patrick Oster's Website