Shortly after discovering the social network Gather, I found out that author Terry Shaw had been selected as the winner of Gather's First Chapters writing competition and his book, The Way Life Should Be was published by Simon and Schuster, making one writer's dream come true (and, as it turns out, another writer also had his dream come true when another book in the competition, Fire Bell in the Night, was also published.
I have to admit I was a bit skeptical when I heard about all of this. Would readers of this social networking site really be able to find a gem in the more than 2600 manuscripts that had been submitted? Would they be able to select "the one" from among the five finalists? I knew I had to find out so I got a copy of this book and sat down to read it.
As it turns out, the answer to all of the questions above was an unequivocal yes. From first page to last, I could not put The Way Life Should Be down for more than a few minutes at a time. I even ignored the phone and kept the tv set off. I've since recommended the book to everyone I know.
This riveting mystery novel centers on John Quinn, editor of the Stone Harbor Pilot, a Maine newspaper he's inherited from his formidable father. Right from the start, the suspense builds, as Quinn's longtime friend, Paul Stanwood, is murdered while checking out Sullivan Park, a notorious hangout for gay men. Stanwood is protective and supportive of the men, angry at those who harass them and suspicious of the true motivations of city officials who want to close down the park.
But before he can provide further details about the motivations of those who want the park shut down, he is killed, setting off shock waves in Quinn's life. He already has more than enough tension in his life already because his wife, Maria, resents the time he spends at work and even suspects him of possible infidelity. Getting caught up in a murder investigation is the last thing he needs right now.
Quinn can't rest, however, until he knows the truth. He can't turn his back on his friend, especially when he finds he may be the only one who really wants to know the truth. This makes him even more determined. He also has some guilt about the disagreements he has had with his friend and this remorse drives him as well.
As the novel unfolds, I was delighted to find that it had all the hallmarks of an excellent mystery, including plenty of surprises and twists and turns. There are also a fair number of suspects, including the despicable police chief, Al Sears, a guy who defines the word bully with nearly every action. He has no trouble throwing his weight around and getting people to go along with him.
What Quinn can't possibly foresee are the many complications that will ensue along the way or the surprises he'll discover in both his friend's background and in Quinn's own life. Even Stanwood's own wife doesn't seem above suspicion. Also, the park turns out to have been more than a gay hangout but the center of a potentially lucrative land deal.
Author Terry Shaw really ramps up the action as Quinn finds his life (and his family's welfare) in danger, witnesses are threatened or beaten and another key witness ends up in the hospital. By the end of the book, my pulse was racing as I turned the pages, eager to find out what would happen and how events would play out. I doubt you'll be able to put this one down either!
There are so many fine points about this novel that I feel compelled to say something about them. The writing style is not the least amateurish and if I hadn't known this was a newly published fiction writer, I doubt I would have guessed. The dialogue is totally realistic and the writing is tight, leaving no dead space or lengthy interludes. The author's originality shines through as he finds innovative ways to reveal key details, whether through newspaper excerpts or other touches. I was truly in admiration of his talent with words and his skillful transition from event to another. I hope to read another book from Mr. Shaw in the not too distant future.