Bullets of Rain
Dark Alley / Harper Collins
US Trade Paperback First
Publication Date: 10-01-2003
304 Pages; $13.95
Date Reviewed: 09-07-03
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2003
For architect Art Latimer, time has lost the power of demarcation. Since the death of his wife, one day slides into another with little to differentiate them. Entombed in a heavily fortified house, which he himself designed, Art can barely focus on his work. He's slowly becoming one with his house. David J. Schow's 'Bullets of Rain' is a novel of identity dissolved, of a self so immersed in another and his surroundings that the barriers break down and reality becomes plastic. Once the first question is asked, the walls come crumbling down. Schow effortlessly places the reader in Art's mind, then just as effortlessly, undoes that mind. Evocatively described and expertly paced, Schow doses his novel with dollops of mental uncertainty reminiscent of Philip K. Dick.
Lorelle's death hit Art Latimer harder than it should have. He spends as much time remembering her life as does living his own. But he's no shrinking violet. Art's house is a bona-fide fortress on an isolated part of the northern California coast built to withstand hurricane force winds. That's all for the best, because a hurricane force storm is heading for the coast. Art is finally going to get the chance to see if his house will withstand the test. Art is also something of a gun-nut. Yes, he's a safety-first, firing-range trained gun-nut, but he does have a safe filled with a variety of firepower including the kind of shotgun that can stop a car. And that's for the best as well. Schow has clearly read his Chekov; those guns you see in the first act will be used for good or ill by the end of the novel.
In 'Bullets of Rain', Schow's prose expertly toes the line between artistic impressionism and page-turning thriller. As the novel begins Art is moping in his memories of Lorelle and procrastinating his work as an architect. When his old friend Derek shows up out of the blue, with a story of passion and murder, then disappears just as unexpectedly, Art begins to wonder whether he imagined the whole episode. When he receives an invitation to a party at another house not so nearby, he decides to avoid human company. As the hurricane approaches so does the party.
Schow cranks up the tension effortlessly and artfully. Reading the novel is akin to being slipped a mickey, dosed with a drug whose effects are unpredictable. Schow's sense of setting the scene is superb. Every player, every place, every man and every move is crisp and clear. Art's tenuous grip on reality is underpinned with starkly realistic descriptions. When the fun starts, when the storm comes in, when the party begins and when the weapons come out of the safe, all bets are off. Nobody is safe, nobody is sane and gritty violence has permanent consequences.
'Bullets of Rain' is a wonderful treat for Schow's many fans. Expect to embarrass yourself if you read it in a public place, because you'll be shouting at the book in terror and shock. Schow establishes an atmosphere of utter unpredictability, and lives up to his promise by being utterly unpredictable. His sense of unreality is infectious. Readers will be afraid of their own house by the end of this novel; each room will hold a special horror. Which room can you hide in? None; you can't hide from yourself in Schow's world. When he makes his world yours, expect to spend the night wide awake. And lock up the guns.