Matthew McBride is a crime fiction voice I always look forward to hearing. Not only is it fresh and unique, it carries a great range. His first book, Frank Sinatra In A Blender, was a satiric, ultra violent, stylized masterpiece while his follow up, A Red Swollen Sun delivered a brooding rural noir gem. His third, End Of The Ocean, gives us an introspective South Seas ballad with a perfect balance of humor and dread.
The tale plays on the interaction of three people. At the center is Sage, a hard luck guy, who has traveled to Bali to drink his wounds away from a rough divorce. He falls for Ratri, an island woman whose culture blocks them from being together. Sage also strikes up a friendship with Wayne, a questionable businessman plugged into the country. When Sage realizes the only way out of his dilemma requires a lot of cash, Wayne offers him a job. It involves a run to Thailand for him, a country where drug smuggling is punishable by death and that may be better than being thrown into their prisons.
McBride takes his time building these relationships and this seemingly simple plot in entertaining fashion. He wants us to know these people and the country they move through. We experience Bali and Ratri like Sage, with his romance unfolding for both in a heartfelt way only a damaged man can feel. Wayne’s point of view provides the initial plot and suspense as we watch him hustle and gather a network of people to work for him. He could be one of the Miami hustlers from an Elmore Leonard novel forced to leave the country. We never know how much is talk and how much is the real thing, however like Sage, we want to trust him even though we probably shouldn’t.
When Sage takes the risk, we are in and it’s tense. The plan has more than a few hiccups. One of them lands him in a jail we pray he gets out of. We are so invested in these characters, we cringe at every obstacle in Sage’s path. He then delivers an ending that dovetails beautifully with its theme to punch us in the gut.
End Of The Ocean continues Matthew McBride’s chain of stand out crime novels that demonstrate the breadth of the genre. Questioning the nature of love, it is also his most personal. Hopefully we won’t have to wait long to see what’s next from him.