3 out of 4 stars
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Pablo Fandango by James L. Kelly features three friends, Marty, Matt, and Howie. Marty and Matt move away after some tragic events in their hometown. The two guys reconnect five years later when they meet again in Toronto. Howie enters their lives around that time. Marty, a rather decent painter, comes up with the idea of an art scam that his two friends agree with.
The first few paragraphs made me curious about the book, as they left me with several questions that I wanted answers to. What were the three friends doing around 6 a.m. walking on King Street while in possession of a few grand and a gun? Were they going to rob a bank, coming from a bank heist, or were they up to something worse?
After this initial suspenseful tempo, things settled down, and the story took on a slower pace which it maintained until the end of the book. As the story is told from Marty’s point of view with the narrator talking directly to the audience, we feel we are reading a diary, and this takes away from the element of suspense. If the main character tells the story sometimes in the future, we know he is going to survive whatever is thrown at him.
Despite the story rolling slowly forward, I was intrigued by the scam and wanted to know whether the three unlikely friends could make it work. The guys differed from each other, yet strangely enough, they all brought something to the table that complemented Marty’s ingenious plan. As the story unfolded, we got more familiar with Matt and Howie and learned about their personal issues that drove them to be receptive to the idea. Howie was a bit funnier, and I ended up liking him quite a lot. Matt, however, remained rather cold, and he emitted a dangerous vibe that I didn't like. Throughout the pages, there was plenty of dialogue between the friends (and other unsavory and even scary people), and this pushed the action forward to keep its momentum going.
The author included several sections that took me back to high-school classes dealing with art theory, as they focused on Picasso and his extensive library of works. While Marty was researching Picasso to hatch his scheme, I’ve learned a lot about several of Picasso’s paintings. I was not bothered by these chapters, but some readers might feel there are too many art-related details sprinkled throughout the pages in a thriller novel.
In terms of editing, I found the writing style enjoyable and devoid of any forced phrases so common to new authors, and I haven’t noticed many grammatical errors in the book; however, sensitive people might shy away from the many swear words present. For a debut novel, the book was well written and had an interesting plot and solid characters, so I award it 3 out of 4 stars. I lowered the rating to 3 stars because of the many curse words. In a book counting less than 300 pages, I found over 300 mentions of the “f” word alone. For me, that number was a little too high.
If readers don’t mind the foul language, I recommend Pablo Fandango to lovers of art heist mysteries where preparation is everything, and character development and detailed descriptions trump fast-paced action scenes.
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