by G.B. Joyce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Received for review from Amazon Vine
G.B. Joyce’s “The Black Ace“ (Penguin Group 2014) is about Brad Shade, a medically-retired ice hockey player-turned-scout who ends up in the middle of the suicide-turned-murder of former teammate, Whisper. Slade wanted to walk away–tried to several times; he wasn’t the type to put himself out for anyone–but had arrived at that point in life where his personal self-worth was suffering because of his past self-centered actions, and Slade hadn’t been the right kind of friend to Whisper. As he helped the grieving widow, planning to do the minimum that would get him out of town and back to his real life (where he was a step away from losing his job and a step past losing his family), he kept finding one more injustice that he felt compelled to right. Despite being beat up by small town thugs, ignored by the police, and threatened by unknown bad guys who didn’t want Slade uncovering the truth of his buddy’s death, Slade kept plodding forward.
The story may sound like it’s about a murder, but it’s really about Brad Shade growing up, discovering life is messy and personal and might be better traveled with a few friends.
Might not be. He’s not sure.
What makes this story exceptional is the author’s voice–Brad Shade’s voice. He’s drenched in ice hockey. That’s what he did for thirty+ years and he can’t let got even as he knows he’s too old and it hasn’t given him a particularly good life anyway. There is lots of ice hockey language, phrasing, allusions. I spent the first thirty pages lost. I’m not sure why I kept reading but I did, and GB Joyce let up enough on the domain-specific language that I wanted to follow Slade’s journey of 350+ pages. Here’s a particularly illuminating passage:
“I wanted to say that only the mentally ill commit suicide and mental illness isn’t something that’s there for explaining. Not by family and friends. Not by scientists who can confidently explain most things. Not by men of the cloth who can doubtlessly explain everything. Not by a mope like me who struggles to explain anything. If I had known her better or if she had been a total stranger, I would have managed to spit that out.
This homespun, dark wisdom, distilled from a life lived hard, kept me reading.
Overall, a good read, probably better if you love ice hockey. I’m not sure I’ll read the rest of the Brad Shade series, but I don’t feel like I wasted my time meeting him.
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