Sunday, January 9, 2011

"The Guardians"

By Andrew Pyper
ISBN No. 978-0-385-66371-7

Trivia quiz: Remember “Sleepers”? The 1996 best seller about four men who conspire to kill a guard who molested them when they were juvenile delinquents? It was made into a movie starring Brad Pitt. Remember the 2003 best seller “Mystic River”? It was about the abduction of a boy, his return, and a murder and made into a movie starring Sean Penn. And what about “The Secret History”? Do you remember that book? It was about cookie-cutter college kids who try to commit the perfect murder and hasn’t been made into a movie yet. No problem if you missed them. This year’s version of “Sleepers”, “Mystic River” and “The Secret History” is called “The Guardians” and I’m thinking Russell Crowe would make a great lead as a Parkinsons patient returning to the scene of a crime he and three boyhood friends committed decades ago. Unfortunately, given the depressing state of movies today the part will likely go to one of the “Gossip Girl” guys.
This time the scene of the crime is a grisly town aptly named Grimshaw. The guys are reunited when one of them commits suicide and the remaining three realize that three people really can keep a secret – if two of them are dead. “I know now that you can do terrible things without an idea,” one of them writes in his Memory Diary. “You can do them without feeling it’s really you doing them.” And in that one sentence Pyper sums up the thoughtless crimes of youth; his book becomes a “Crime and Punishment” x 4. But “The Guardians” is also a character study about WHY kids do awful things and then say they don’t know why they did what they did. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about just watch a few episodes of “Judge Judy” when she grills a stupid teen about his/her DUI.) Giving his lead character Parkinsons is a nice touch (literally; doorknobs feel like a “ball of ice”) even if it reminds you of the pulpy vulnerabilities Stephen King favours for his own characters (it seems like someone in every King novel has asthma). Pyper is a better writer, though (no nasty e-mails, please). There’s something epic about “The Guardians” – and not in a populist, corny way. The ground it covers should feel well-tread and obvious and yet it instead feels fresh, inventive and engaging. For instance, a Grimshaw restaurant is underlit not for ambience “but to hide whatever crunches underfoot on the carpet.” “The Guardians” is a psychological thriller with actual idiosyncratic smarts.