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City of Strangers
by Ian Mackenzie

Release Date: 7th May 2009
Publisher: Harville Secker
ISBN: 978 1 8465 5253 3
RRP: £12.99

Average Customer Rating: 
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Disappointing debut from a author touted as 'gifted'...

City of Strangers is an angst ridden tale of filial relationships. Paul and Ben are half-brothers, separated by different mothers, two decades, financial status and a father whom one cannot forgive and the other cannot forget. Their strained relationship is derived from their father’s youthful predilection for the Nazi regime; going so far as to personally handing over his family inheritance to Hitler’s regime and incurring shameful infamy. Despite living in the same city of New York, neither brother interacts regularly with one another until events precursor an unexpected shift in their relationship. More than the comatose father who finally succumbs to death; it is the brutality of a violent street encounter that leaves Paul bruised, shaken and unwittingly entered into a strange menacing dance with one of his antagonists, that proves that blood will out. Against all rationality and logic, filial loyalty prevails, seemingly as real and uncontrollable as a heartbeat.

There are interesting themes of religion and forgiveness and the author toys with the notion of a son trying to make restitution for the sins of the father (Ben converts to Judaism), however, Mackenzie’s attempt at a psychological thriller is rudimentary; he offers a vagueness of characterisation and plot, preferring to ponderously meander around the rather benign and ordinary events that lead up to its inevitable crescendo.

With a distinctly lack lustre beginning, those events are narrated by some unknown individual, causing each character to appear distant and hazy; the reader disconnected, an unwanted bystander. Mackenzie’s style is cold, stuttering and dispassionate – intentionally so, clearly, but by doing so failing to allow an emotional connect. There are moments of pause and preamble over the history of father and sons, but with only intangible shapes and loose images to grasp hold of. The eldest son’s pending problem with the government regarding his hedge fund could be seen as an attempt at integrating contemporary relevance; but as a plotline it fails to strike a chord. I neither liked nor disliked any character. I found it impossible to summon up the requisite feelings to care about any of them, their actions or their consequences. In the end, one is left wondering what the point of it all was.


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