****Shadows the Sizes of Cities


photo: Carlos ZGZ, creative commons license

By Gregory W. BeaubienIn this tension-filled debut thriller, you get rather quickly to the point where you don’t trust anyone—and that includes first-person narrator Will Clark, who claims to be a travel writer from Chicago. Yet it always seems possible he might be something more. You never really learn how Will acquired his fighting skills or whether there is more to his agenda than appears on the surface. Beaubien takes advantage of using a first-person narrative to let Will tell you exactly what and how much he wants you to know.

The book starts in Madrid, where Will is waiting to hook up with three friends for a trip to Morocco and a writing assignment. He needs money, and he’s preoccupied with “the Dutchman’s offer,” a mysterious phrase invoked a couple of times too many, though when the explanation finally comes, it turns the story on its head.

If you don’t trust Will, you certainly don’t trust his friends. There’s Tammy, the spoiled rich girl accustomed to having the whole world bend to her wishes, and her loser (Will’s opinion) Irish boyfriend Nigel. Nor do you trust Will’s women—the unpleasant Marissa, especially, and Stacy, who’s just arrive on the scene. Stacy keeps turning up, her cool blonde beauty a salve to Will’s overheated spirit, but who is she, really?

Tammy and Nigel and Will and Marissa meet up in Madrid before heading across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier. The couple recklessly embroils Will and Marissa in a small-town drug deal that goes frightfully bad. People are dead, and the escape south to Marrakesh is risky. I really don’t want to say more about the fast-moving plot, to let you discover its surprises for yourself.

Much of the excitement in reading the book is that the story—and Will—are never predictable. You can’t be sure where you’ll end up—geographically, morally, or metaphorically. If there’s a fault in the writing, it is that Beaubien (via Will) tends to name the emotions he’s feeling, rather than trusting the readers to discern them through his Will’s actions.

Beaubien is a journalist and has a reporter’s eye for descriptive detail that takes you right to where you feel the gritty desert, the heat, and the hostile stares of the men in tea shops. If you’ve been to Morocco, you will experience it all again, down to the hair-raising trek over the Atlas mountains. If you haven’t, you’ll believe you have. This dense atmosphere is one of the book’s most compelling aspects.