Score: 94/100 (9.4 out of 10)
This is far and away one of the strongest fiction books in this cycle. This is particularly true in terms of characters, especially the villain and supporting cast. It also never ceases to be interesting. If the previous contest cycle taught us anything, it's that great characters supersedes world-building, plot, or even eloquent writing. People drive stories, and that's one of the greatest things about this book: the people.
With that said, there's a lot to not like about the main protagonist. He is quite egotistical and, to put it blunt, a womanizer with a one-track mind and erectile dysfunction. He's also dead. That's not a spoiler, you pretty much gather that by the first 10 pages or so.
Let's just get this out of the way because it really doesn't seem to matter other than giving the character some backstory: Jack MacLeod was born with a genius-level intellect that garnered the attention of scientists who ended up paying his parents to run experiments on him. However, he eventually grows up not really using his great intellectual gifts, becoming somewhat of an example of wasted potential. Yes, he becomes a teacher, but the kind of teaching he does doesn't take so much thinking, just doing.
Jack is too distracted seemingly chasing everything with a pair of legs and long hair. The man is a walking phallus with a phallus that apparently doesn't work. Just how hot is this old man anyway? Is he George Clooney? Does he talk like Sean Connery? What is it about Jack that makes every woman (and even gay men) fawn over him? Is it really, really, really his hot personality or his “famous brain?” The reason we challenge this notion is because we rarely ever read about Jack doing anything truly brilliant. His intelligence really isn't impressive, at least as presented. Yes, he tries and gets close to remembering the words to a book, but he ultimately fails. That's right, his one true test of intelligence is a flop. But to be fair, his brain tumor and poor health do play a part in that.
There are so many tragedies in this book, but arguably the one that causes Jack's life to snowball is the prolonged and torturous disintegration of his marriage to Frances. That was 1000% Jack's fault. Was Frances an angel all of the time? No. But she was absolutely justified in everything she did. Frances tried so hard to be a good wife to Jack even when he was a constant disappointment in just about every way, shape, and form. She was even sensitive and understanding in working around his ED.
Jack is a horrible, terrible husband as well as a horrible, terrible father. Does he hit his wife and/or kids? No. But what he does to them is arguably much worse. He knowingly and willingly sets them up for a lifetime full of lovelessness, instability, distrust, and emotional detachment. Why? Because it's what Jack taught them to expect from a relationship. Jack feeling bad about it later barely softens the blow. We can almost guarantee that his grandchildren grow up neglected and likely pursuing drugs and/or crime because of the poor example Jack set for his kids. He has quite literally ruined multiple generations of people.
The other terrible thing about Jack is just how predatory he is. Jack is a pig. The man takes advantage of Frances's far-inferior intelligence knowing that it gives him an advantage in a relationship with her. He views Sarah's vulnerable, abused state and previous daddy issues as some sort of a sick opportunity to pursue an affair. If he can put his flaccid member in someone, he'll lust for them. It doesn't matter who it is. He gets some positive attention from a gay man, and says he wishes he were 10 years younger and gay. Dude, can you... chill?
On that note, he is able to guilt his poor gay coworker into a conspiracy plot that could get them both fired and destroy their careers, and he is later able to guilt that same poor gay coworker into giving up his whole livelihood to take care of him in his fading state. Jack either directly or indirectly ruins several lives, the least of which are those of his kids, Frances, and Don's.
But somehow, someway, we still have a soft spot for him and even root for him at times? Why? Because THE VILLAIN.
The villain, Wally Mussel, is one of the most despicable, evil, disgusting human beings that could ever dare call themselves a human being. If Jack is terrible, Mussel is darn-near Satan incarnate. Mussel takes Jack's sick thoughts and acts on them. He habitually and unabashedly exploits and abuses everyone around him, particularly his female workers. It doesn't matter if he hates you or doesn't like you, he'll just blackmail you, torment you, and ruin your life just because he can. It's a game to him.
You know, at least Jack loves animals. Wally Mussel doesn't even seem to love his shadow.
The fact that we side with someone as immoral and frustrating as Jack to overcome the nefarious Wally Mussel is a testament to the author's skill at creating characters.
There are several four/five-star characters in this novel including Sarah, an attractive new coworker who attempts to convince Jack that she requires protection from Mussel, Don, a kind and charismatic homosexual coworker with a heart of gold, and Eliza, a bookworm who seems to be Jack's soulmate.
To say that Don is an example of a true and loyal friend would be an understatement. To say that Sarah didn't make our blood boil would be an understatement. To say that the pairing of Eliza and Jack is a first-ballot nominee for “Best Couple” would be an understatement.
Check out this book!