The Searcher // by Simon Toyne


//published 2015//

I was quite excited to win this book from the publisher in a drawing, and even more when it arrived as a delightful hardcover edition.  Many thanks!  Naturally, my review is not impacted at all, other than a nagging feeling of guilt that it’s taken me so long to get around to writing it!

From the jacket cover:

On a windy hilltop in the town of Redemption, Arizona, people have gathered at an old cemetery to bury a local man who died in a tragic accident.  But the occasion is suddenly disrupted by a thunderous explosion several miles away.  A plane has crashed, pouring a pillar of black smoke into the air.

As Sheriff Garth Morgan speeds toward the accident, he nearly hits a man running down the road, with no shoes on his feet and no memory of who he is or how he got there.  The only clues to his identity are a label in his jacket and a book that’s been inscribed to him, both giving the name Solomon Creed.  Solomon knows only that he’s here for a reason – to save a  man he has never met…a man who was buried that very morning.

Miles away, three men scan the skies for a plane carrying an important package.  Spotting the black cloud in the distance, they suspect something has gone wrong, and that the man who has sent them will demand a heavy price if the package has been lost.

To uncover his real identity, Solomon must expose Redemption’s secrets and the truth behind the death of the man he is there to save.  But there are those who will do anything to stop him, men prepared to call on the darkest forces to prevent Solomon from succeeding.  The Searcher delves into history, murder, criminal revenge, and personal betrayal while also exploring bravery, love, sacrifice, and renewal – all underpinned by a truly frightening and deadly mystery.

So.  Apologies first.  It has taken me far too long to get around to writing this review.  Life has been busy the last couple of months, but you’ll have that.  Hopefully things are calming down.  (Hopefully I’m not going to be working as much in January???)

The Searcher was a thoroughly engrossing read.  Despite its bulk (almost 500 pages), I flew through the story.  It has short, snappy chapters, which are always a hook for me.  Solomon was a likable and mysterious protagonist, even if he did seem a lot less concerned about his personal identity that I think I would have been in his situation. (“Hmm, I have no idea who I am.  Oh well!  Guess I’ll just jump right into this crazy situation and start trying to solve a murder mystery!!”)  Having his entire background be a blank made him more of a wildcard.  The mysteries of his identity were definitely left wide open for the sequel, but not in a completely obnoxious way, so I was alright with it.  I did find it moderately annoying when Solomon would just magically know how to do everything that needed to be done.  (“I know how to ride a horse!  Shoot a gun!  Read and speak foreign languages!  So convenient that I know how to do everything at exactly the moment it would be handy to know how to do the thing!”) Sometimes it felt like a bit of a cop-out – like there was no situation in which Solomon would truly lose.

I liked a lot of the secondary characters as well, and also appreciated the fact that the story was told in past tense.  Thank you for not tormenting me with present tense!!

The plot was just a shade too busy.  There was the historical story, told from extracts of an old journal.  There was the murder mystery.  There was the evil???-sheriff story.  There were the drug cartels (multiple stories).  There was the almost-drug-cartel-but-wishes-he-could-escape story.  There was the mystery of Solomon.  There was the plane crash.  While Toyne did a decent job of pulling everything together in the end, it also kind of felt like he had too many characters, and the last quarter of the book virtually turned into a blood bath as he killed off everyone whose storyline had no other good way to wrap up.  There were a few torture scenes that I didn’t like either, as I’m rather easily squeamish and they felt unnecessary to me (especially the almost-rape scene towards the end… Ramon’s little explanation of what will happen if she doesn’t comply… ugh).

I was also a little weirded out by the strange “religious” aspect of the book, mostly found in the historical story of Redemption’s founder, who received signs through torn pages from an old Bible and builds a church, etc.  To me, that was the weakest bit, attempting to bring together this ancient tale from the town’s foundation and make it relevant to the current events.  Like, I understand what he was doing and it somewhat worked, but I think the whole book could have read cleaner without it, especially the random ghosts who seemed to do nothing other than wander about and add nothing to the actual story.  However, I’ll cut some slack here since it’s possible that Solomon is some kind of immortal doomed to wander about lifting curses.

My last beef with this book is one I stumble across not irregularly:  a simple lack of research.  And if it’s something basic enough that >>I<< notice, then an editor really should have caught it.  The big one that cropped up not just once, but several times, was the fact that Toyne kept referring to ‘palominos’ as though they were a breed of horse, when they are actually a specific coloration.  The Palomino Horse Breeders of America, for instance, recognize multiple breeds as registered palominos as long as the horse meets with the correct color specifications – in brief, “approximately the color of a United States gold coin.”  Consequently, statements like this one really annoyed me: “He picked out a black palomino, the color chosen to blend in better with the night…”  Huh??

As an aside, I feel like authors in general try too hard with horses (and frequently with cars – for instance, why would a random modern small town in Arizona still have a Lincoln Mark V when they were a relatively uncommon car only made for two years in the 1970’s?).  Like, I don’t need to be impressed with your knowledge of horses.  Please stop using the word “stallion” (since people rarely have them just hanging about waiting to be ridden: if it’s not for breeding, it’s probably going to be gelded), and stop just choosing random breeds of horses and inserting them into the story as though they are interchangeable.  You wouldn’t say someone drove off in a Porsche if they’re heading up a 4×4 dirt road; they probably aren’t going to ride off into the sunset on a pure white American Saddlebred stallion that they just happened to find at a rundown Arizona ranch, either.  ANYWAY.

All this is fairly nitpicky, though.  On the whole, I really enjoyed this book, and am definitely planning to read the sequel when it makes an appearance.  While I feel like the plot (and the fact-checking) could have been cleaned up a bit, the story still barreled along and kept me completely involved.  4/5.  I’ll be watching for Book #2, and in the meantime may give Toyne’s Sanctus Trilogy a whirl.

PS For my non-American readers – Goodreads seems to indicate that the book was published as Solomon Creed in the UK rather than The Searcher.  Why do publishers do this????