Wednesday, July 13, 2022

John Marrs - The Good Samaritan

The people who call End of the Line need hope. They need reassurance that life is worth living. But some are unlucky enough to get through to Laura. Laura doesn’t want them to hope. She wants them to die.
Laura hasn’t had it easy: she’s survived sickness and a difficult marriage only to find herself heading for forty, unsettled and angry. She doesn’t love talking to people worse off than she is. She craves it.
But now someone’s on to her—Ryan, whose world falls apart when his pregnant wife ends her life, hand in hand with a stranger. Who was this man, and why did they choose to die together?
The sinister truth is within Ryan’s grasp, but he has no idea of the desperate lengths Laura will go to…
Because the best thing about being a Good Samaritan is that you can get away with murder.

Comment: This book was published in 2017 and when I saw the blurb, I was curious about such a story. I finally had the chance to read it this month and it was much more engrossing than what I would have imagined.

In this story we meet Laura, whom we learn is a volunteer at End of the Line, a helpline for those who might be alone or in need of help of a friendly voice. However, Laura isn't an average helpful voice and her thrill is in helping those with suicidal thoughts to actually go ahead with this, and she even likes to listen while they end their lives on the other side of a phone call.
Things start to change for her when Ryan, the widower of a woman who committed suicide along with a stranger, starts investigating and realizes there has to be more about all the phone calls his wife did to End of the Line and he quickly learns about Laura. He decides to play a game, to get revenge, but the reality is that Laura isn't just someone bored with life, she has an agenda and she will want to stay on top of her game...

This was a very gripping read, so much that even though I had to stop often for "real life" issues, once I got back to the book, I was as curious about what came after as if I hadn't stopped, and I do count this as a positive aspect. The book is divided into several sections, the first told by Laura, the second by Ryan and from the third on is more or less alternate narrators.

The plot is actually much more complex than what the blurb suggests because while the focus is on Laura's activities at the End of the Line, we also learn a lot about her childhood and youth and the kind of experiences eh went through. This clearly shaped her mind and created this need for her to be in control of death, somehow, which means the psychological factor is more important for the whole reason why this is happening, instead of just Laura being a psychopath.

I think the author did a great job in setting up things with the first part, told by Laura. We are aware she is a monster, in the sense she plays with people's vulnerabilities and seeking help, but we also get an idea of the things she went through and there are sections where I felt pity for Laura. However, as the story advances, our feelings keep switching because we learn more things which are disturbing. Still, the author did a clever thing, always maintaining ambiguity in regard to certain information, so we don't truly know whom to trust in all this or which detail is true or exaggerated.

Ryan is an easier character to read because his moral compass is obvious, but he also does dubious things in his seeking revenge. I mean, it gets to a point where it can be easy to see where his path is taking him but I confess I felt rather emotional about some of the things that happened to him. I especially think the way his character was written, his sense of loss over his wife and unborn son were key factors in the plot, which certainly added urgency to some decisions of his, but of course we could see some of them weren't very clever...

Once Ryan and Laura clash, the story goes on a spiral game of who will have the upper hand in the game, and while this was intriguing for the most part, I could see the likely end wouldn't be one of closure. I was still curious, though, but the author introduced a lot more details and some could be seen as a bit too distracting, and not just to keep the reader guessing. I was still engaged with the read, I was eager to see how Ryan and other characters would deal with this whole scheme Laura was setting up and then something major happens, which changes everything.

The last parts I read with the dread of "will Laura be found guilty and discovered by everyone else" but things kept happening at a slow pace until the last chapter. In there, we do discover a new situation, a clue which was deliberately left unsolved, so that the end could be ambiguous and open ended. I confess, I would have preferred things to go a different way, but I understand why the author made the choice of being vague in relation to what would happen afterwards. I just think the plot would have needed closure and Laura should have been found guilty in a more exposed way.

Nevertheless, I think thriller readers certainly found this to be compelling and although this was my first read by the author, I also had a good time going through all the twists and turns in this story. The psychological aspects were well done, but there were one or two elements which, in the end, weren't as well solved. Still, I might try something else by the author in the future.
Grade: 8/10

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