Who is John Wayne? Who killed Susan? Does it matter?

Newton’s Swing by Chris Paling

Chris Paling has written nine novels, but it’s taken those nine to get some real recognition via being chosen as one of Fiction Uncovered’s 2011 crop of the best authors you haven’t read yet with his book Nimrod’s Shadow.

That book is in my TBR pile, but I discovered I already had an earlier one of his novels Newton’s Swing , which was published in 2000, so I decided to read that first.

Susan lies dead on her bed, shot in the side.  Her husband John, has dialled 911, but is shocked and confused, and is unsure what to do. Rewind a decade…

John Wayne is an Englishman, an ad-man working in New York who finds ‘the world is split between those that make a joke about my name, and those who don’t’.  Naturally, he prefers those who don’t.  He works for Angel, head of the agency, who is famed for his ‘parties’, where no-one goes by their own name. ‘That way even if the girls get hurt, reputations stay safe.’ John meets a beautiful art dealer, Susan, (whom Angel knows as Leona), and despite the instant hatred between John and her best friend Angela, they become a couple and have a son, Jordan.

John tells his story through his relationships with friends, colleagues and family. Flicking back and forward through the years, contrasting episodes from his life with Susan to the fall-out of her murder, and the re-building of the bond with his son, and eventually auditioning replacements for Susan.

John is racked with grief, guilt, self-doubt.  Eventually someone is jailed for Susan’s murder, but you never feel that they got the right man.  All the way through as we negotiate life’s quagmire with John,  there are moments when you think you know what happened, but then again …

Wayne is a complex character, an outsider who somehow manages to fit in, but not completely. ‘Susan’s world had a secret door to it. A few people had the key: Angela, a couple of other women, Jordan, perhaps another man. Not me.’  All of them have something to hide, yet it is obvious that he and Susan did have something, but they connected on another wavelength entirely.

Written in a taut and sparing style, I was drawn from the beginning into John’s world. Regardless of whether I trusted his memory or not, I wanted him to come out of his internalising of Susan’s death, and to really get to know his son.  There is some humour and light, but John’s story is serious, a little cold and aloof and an absolutely compelling read.  I’m going to have to read a lot more of Paling’s books if they’re this good. (9.5/10)

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I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
Newton’s Swing by Chris Paling. Vintage paperback, 240 pages.
Nimrod’s Shadow by Chris Paling.

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8 thoughts on “Who is John Wayne? Who killed Susan? Does it matter?

  1. It’s patronising to use ‘discovered’ for one who has written several novels. There should be a relational term in such statements, like ‘I discovered…’.

    I like the premise you gave; initially I thought John might be the fall guy then I thought of Angel who knows Susan. A lot to keep the mind busy.

    • I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at Nana … I did say ‘I discovered’ him in my post via his latest novel which was picked for this promotion, (and went on to get significant exposure in British bookshops and the blogosphere etc.) I think it is brilliant to find an author you’ve not read before, that you instantly want to read more of…

      I bought Newtons’ Swing at least ten years ago – presumably the cover/blurb attracted me at the time, but it got lost in my book piles. I recently found it again and was attracted to it once more, so you could say ‘I re-discovered’ him! ;)

      • I always feel a sense of frustration when I come across a new-to-me author–one I haven’t heard of and yet one that really impresses me. I start to wonder who else I am missing, but then again you can’t read them all.

        I was all proud of myself when I came across the crime novels of Andrea Camilleri a few years ago. I thought I’d made this great discovery and then found that he’s considered one of Italy’s greatest crime writers.

        Anyway this one sounds good…

        • Guy, I must read some more Camilleri books – Montalbano is wonderful. There is a whole crop of great Italian crime writers translated now which is brilliant, and giving the Scandinavians a run for their money!

          Speaking of which, Jo Nesbo is an interesting example – he’d written several before The Snowman – but that was the first to get translated and mass marketed, so we all found him after Harry Hole was well established, and the earlier ones weren’t available, which was rather irritating.

  2. I remind of the abbot book from last year by this description ,I like he made fiction uncovered in a way as I d not heard of him and he been writing a good while ,all the best stu

  3. Blimey … Thanks for the positive review, Gaskella. Few people read N Swing when it came out (or subsequently), but it’s heartening to know somebody has found it and enjoyed it. Best wishes to your site. CP

    • Blimey! … Thanks CP. I’m very fond of novels with an air of mystery about them that make you think as you’re reading. Newton’s Swing was definitely one of those. I really want to read more of your books, but I can’t promise when – hopefully much sooner than I got to N Swing. ;)

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