It’s hard to say what I like about this short story without major spoilers, but I guess therein lies the compliment: the twist ending is the strong point. It starts with a great opening line – one of the best I’ve seen recently, promises a payoff, and delivers. It’s a quick read and it satisfies. Vivino is a good writer: the craft is all here to see, and it’s everything’s nicely trimmed and polished to suit the short story format.
So why a three star review? Well, let’s be clear: this is three leaning towards four, but here’s the critical part. The ideas in this story are the kind that I love, but I wanted more depth. The protagonist saying that the only good reason for killing someone is love (at the start of the story) didn’t win my sympathies. The setting (and its prison system nodding its head to a certain scene in A Game of Thrones) kept me there, as did the mind powers and the concept of a ‘Daydreamer,’ but ultimately the character depth wasn’t there to back it up.
As the novel progressed I was starting to question the narrator’s reliability, especially about his motives, only for the story to wrap up just as I was getting a handle on him. Sure, it wraps up nice at neat and it’s a nice twist, but it could have been more. The villain of the piece doesn’t really get developed either, and remains a rather one-dimensional plot device. (His name did amuse me though – Rance Mard somehow made me think of ‘rancid lard,’ though I don’t know why…perhaps it’s a fitting comparison for a man gone bad). It’s no spoiler to say the story starts off with the narrator admitting to the villain’s murder, and the bulk of the story is the how and the why of it, but what was missing was my true desire to see the bad guy get his comeuppance. In the end I was only interested in the ‘how’ part of it. There were surprises in Purgatory that I liked, but still a void left to fill.
Don’t get me wrong though, the ‘how’ part kept me reading. Vicino has done well with the set-up behind the action, and keeps familiar territory fresh. Not to mention there’s a good amount of influence spotting that can be done for the sci-fi buffs. There’s a certain line to do with screaming that I think tips its hat to a rather famous short story (which I admit I still haven’t read), and a couple more ideas I won’t spoil.
Purgatory is essentially a good teaser for Vicino’s work, but I recommend his Time Heist novel more….that’s where I did get most of things I criticise Purgatory for not having. There are some interesting similarities between Time Heist and Purgatory, and I’m inclined to think that perhaps the latter acts as a warm-up for the former, strange though that sounds.