4 out of 4 stars
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Monarchs and Mendicants by Dan Groat is the first book in a series which transcends the literary genres. Technically it has placed itself in the C/T/M/H genre, as it has a crime aspect and enough action that definitely captures the adrenaline soaked thriller feel, but it is much more than that. Groat's prose allows it to border on literary fiction, his characters speak to the reader's very soul bordering many conversations on philosophy, and the harsh reality of the topic at hand is one that could be straight out of a memoir.
This powerful book follows our stoic protagonist, Gifford, as he survives alone on the streets of St. Louis. Gifford, an ex-Navy Seal, lives life day-to-day, merely surviving alone, combating the demons of war, death, and loss. He has always looked out solely for number one until one morning he finds a fellow vagrant dead by the infamous ''Homeless Hacker''. Not only does the recently deceased's dog become an inseparable companion for Gifford, but also the migration away from danger lands him in a community of homeless the likes of which he has never seen. As Gifford secures work among these misfits, he finds it harder and harder to look out for only himself. He quickly realizes that the employers of the only work these men can get are corrupt and dangerous. Gifford finds himself in the middle of a glorified homeless workers' union battle, a crime ring bigger than anyone expected, and a community that seems to be a magnet for danger and death.
When you begin Monarchs and Mendicants you may fear that this end up just another dramatic tale about a soldier's battle with PTSD. Albeit a powerful and important topic to socialize to the general public, this book quickly becomes more than that. Groat builds a cast of characters that seem so real that you are sure you've sat around a barrel fire and heard their tales. He boldly attacks the tough situation of homelessness, the tribulations of living on the street, and all the while throwing in a healthy dose of philosophy of what it really means to live. The plot itself is vibrant and exciting, leading the reader in one direction and subsequently ripping out the proverbial rug from under their feet to reveal just enough of a twist to keep you guessing without being too cliché. The book easily gets you to love the main character; between his 9-inch knife, his Navy Seal training, and a personality which is one-part John Wayne and one-part Spartan, he rules the stage. What I like best about this book is how there are so many ways that it can be approached and so many things to get out of it. You can take it at face value and have an exciting thriller, you can see it as a PTSD story of redemption by an ex-soldier, you can take it as a philosophical work about living versus surviving, or you can take it as a statement on the current homeless/jobless epidemic in corrupt corporate America. Either way, you are in for a good ride.
I would be very hard pressed to find something I disliked about this book and to be perfectly honest, if I did find something, I would be grasping at straws. If I take a shot at the realism of the plot I can easily counter with the fact that it is a work of fiction, if I criticize the characters I would argue that the variety of personalities makes the book more vibrant, and if I judge the nonchalance to which Groat approaches homelessness and PTSD I can easily state that perhaps the world needs to have these facts thrust before their eyes.
I utterly and thoroughly enjoyed this book and therefore will reach into my reviewer's handbag of praise and pull out a perfect 4 out of 4 stars. The book has a bit of something for everyone but I'm sure lovers of the crime/thriller genre will love this book as much as I did. If you are a harlequin junky and absolutely need a love connection in your literature, you can probably skip this one. Without doubt, I'm looking forward to seeing where Groat takes his readers in the next iteration of this tale!
Monarchs and Mendicants
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