Reviewed By Caroline Edmondson
“You’re so full of shit. Your whole generation. You wake up one day, think, Wow, we’re destroying the planet. Let’s study the causes, hold a candlelight vigil then turn the whole mess over to our kids. Here. Sorry.”
I’ve always had a strange fascination with murder. Before you ask, no I never have nor ever would commit it but have always been interested in the motifs behind certain barbaric acts. After all, aren’t we all? Just take a look at the rise of shows such as Criminal Minds, SVU and Law & Order and the recent interest in serial killers such as Ted Bundy. So it is safe to say that crime novels have always been at the forefront of America’s favorite genre. So when I received Headlong, I was thrilled to dive into the mystery that was about to take place. An entrant in the Next Generation Indie Awards in 2014, Headlong has everything that one could want from a gripping novel: political activism, a humorous first person narrative, and of course, murder. Ron MacLean flawlessly weaves multiple storylines throughout his novel while keeping the reader engaged and entertained from start to finish.
Nick Young, Headlong’s protagonist and narrator, is a recently divorced, ex-journalist who has been beckoned home from Los Angeles to take care of his dying, estranged father. Struggling under the weight of his father’s piling medical bills and his own sense of self-loathing, Nick grapples with the possibility of being tied down to a life in Boston once again. Nick’s voice adds elements of humor to this tense novel with his frequent quips and self-deprecating jokes. “My industrious age-peers were well into their days, having impacted the world in new and no-doubt profound ways. I was on my way to the Council on Aging with a bag full of medical bills. It seemed like something an adult would do.” Nick’s best friend, Bo, a teenage self-appointed activist, tangles Nick in the scene of Boston’s political upheaval. When a wealthy business owner’s house gets broken into in the middle of the day and his teenage son beaten almost to death, union members and activist groups alike come together to set off a wave of demonstrations, rallies and upheaval in the streets of Boston. Nick finds himself in the middle of all of this, pen in hand, as he resurrects his talents of investigative journalism. But what happens when everything is not what it seems and more often than not, most people have their hands dirty in some way? This novel follows the internal struggle of Nick as he searches for justice while protecting those he loves most. Set amongst the backdrop of union strikes, labor negotiations, violence and a mysterious murder, Headlong is a fast pace novel that keeps you greedily turning the page until the end.
One element of this novel that stuck out while reading it was the way in which Ron MacLean thoughtfully constructs each of his sentences. Many of his paragraphs consist of clipped, to the point sentences, which range from a handful or words to just one. The effect is a steady beat of musicality that propels the reader forward in moments of extreme action or jumbled thought. “Another newspaper box toppled. The crash of metal. The sound tensed me. Then shouts. The cop who’d been nudging had knocked someone off balance. Down. No room to fall. Thee domino effect took out a half-dozen bodies, rippled. We all bounced off each other. Wobbled. Batons came up as the surge moved back toward the cops. I took a picture.” Ron’s ability to effectively translate important themes, issues and plot points across with minimal words is something to be applauded.
In its own way, Headlong isn’t your standard crime novel, it deals with important issues that many people face: grappling with the guilt of watching an estranged family member slowly deteriorate while not feeling the emotion you should be, struggling with finding your footing after a seemingly perfect life falls apart, the equality of fair treatment of laborers, political activism. “Violence against property isn’t violence against people. When property becomes an economic weapon, attacking it is the only way to set things right,” becomes a constant motto for one side of Headlong’s political fight. While other characters argue that violence is violence no matter the circumstances. These two ideas are constantly at battle with each other during this novel and I often found myself fluctuating on which side I agreed with. The question of “how do you do the right thing when someone you love might be tangled in the web” becomes a constant question on the back of our character’s minds and on mine as well. Despite the thrill of mystery and murder, Headlongby Ron MacLean brings up heartbreaking, emotional topics that stayed on my brain well after I walked away from this book. Whether you love murder, politics or a love to hate character, this novel will leave you satisfied and yet longing for more.