Observation Hill by Tim Jollymore (Finns Way Books, 2015) centers around the life and career of Paul Tuomi Jr., a mid-level police detective in Duluth who has just been named lead detective on a high-profile murder case despite his relative inexperience and lack of seniority.
In the midst of this, he must contend with the sudden death of a family friend, his crumbling marriage, and his former high-school sweetheart/now lover, who works for his father-in-law.
Born and raised in the West End, Paul struggles to adapt to the changing social climate of the ’60s as he longs for a “simpler time.” His East End wife pushes him towards career advancements for which he has no aspirations and blames him for the death of their son.
As Paul investigates the deaths, he becomes embroiled in a drug network with links to his family.
Jollymore manages to create occasional moments of interest, however, neither the characters nor the plot are fully developed. Paul has a number of things pulling him in different directions—the grief he still feels over his son’s death, regret for having married his wife, a desire to draw closer to his working class roots despite his wife’s desire for a more lavish lifestyle, and the death of his surrogate brother.
Readers who enjoyed The Last Policeman will find similarities between Paul and Hank. Both men come from working class backgrounds. Both are firmly tied to their principles and determined to find truth and justice despite the opposition of others.
Where The Last Policeman succeeds is where Observation Hill falters. While Hank stands firm in his convictions, Paul’s decisions are driven by regret—not that he let others choose his path, but that the path others chose didn’t turn out how he expected.
Jollymore tries to create a classic detective novel, but the final product never quite hits the mark, with choppy writing and clipped, overly simple sentences.
Where Jollymore excels is scenery, bringing to life the East End mansion of Martha Crosley and the grungy, loud light show of Fizzy, the local drug lord. These elaborate descriptions come at the price of characterization. The importance of some characters is never fully established, while the importance of others feels over-emphasized.
Observation Hill has potential and could have been a first-rate novel, but winds up a laborious read with only hints of a solid story lurking within. ★ ★
Connor Franta is one of many rising YouTube stars. He has been creating videos since 2010 and recently released A Work in Progress (Atria/Keywords Press, 2015), an autobiographical account of his life and coming out.
Franta reveals tidbits about growing up in La Crescent, Minnesota, and attending Catholic school for the first nine years of his education.
Early on, he turns a small section over to his parents, who portray him as active, curious, determined, and meticulous, even as an infant. When he began his interest in creative arts and video development, he was never content until everything was “just so.”
Franta credits this drive for his continued success as a videographer. Even when pushed by his father towards a doomed wrestling career, Franta put his best efforts into succeeding and excelling.
Finally, when his older sister shows more of an interest in wrestling, his father realizes he’s been pushing his own dreams onto his son instead of allowing him the freedom to explore his own. Still, there was a drive on the part of Franta to keep trying despite his lack of talent.
A Work in Progress has a fun, conversational tone. It’s easy to imagine sitting across from Franta, listening to him recount these stories over a cup of coffee (unsurprisingly, this is one of his favorite pastimes).
Closer to the end, he describes coming out, struggling as a young teen in a small town when he begins to realize he is attracted to other boys. When he acknowledged his sexuality, he also discovered that he didn’t know—wasn’t sure he had ever even talked to—another gay person.
He tries to convince himself that he can change his sexuality. Failing this, he tries to convince others that he is merely energetic and slightly flamboyant, going so far as to post a public video to his channel entitled, “I’m Not Gay.” It is easy to see why coming out would be such a difficult process.
At just over 200 pages, A Work in Progress is easily read in one sitting. Franta is not a verbose or sophisticated author, but his self-deprecating humor exudes a refreshing charm. Franta displays a genuine desire to connect with his audience and a compassion for his peers that make it easy to see why he is viewed as such a strong role model. ★ ★ ★ ½
Kris Milstead is a nerd insomniac. When she is not surfing the Internet or watching Doctor Who, she can probably be found reading and working on her next book review. You can follow her on Twitter at medelle71 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.