The Family Man by Tim J Lebbon
Review by Gary Fry
Lebbon’s latest thriller kicks off with a pleasingly domestic sequence of events, documenting a friendship between two geezers – a day out cycling, drinks in a garden, watching the world go by. But what they see that day plants an idea in their heads, and this gradually leads to a modestly ambitious heist involving a local Post Office and cash being delivered there.
It’s an unusual premise, and one which relies a lot on convincing psychological motivation for it to work. Does Lebbon pull this off? I’d say very nearly. The author is great at depicting a relatively stable marriage – involving Dom, the titular Family Man – and familiar struggles to get by through paid work. Dom is a sensible chap, even a little bit “boring”, and this self-identity proves his Achilles heel. Tempted into carrying out a bad act with his friend Andy, things just go from bad to worse.
Owing to a slightly surreal plot twist – revealed in a great set-piece detailing the heist – Lebbon flings the Family Man and his wife and daughter into a dangerous chase sequence which lasts pretty much the length of the novel. It’s certainly breathless and bloody, with many a meaty confrontation served up by a group of deranged psychopaths who’ll stop at little to get what they believed they’re owed.
Lebbon’s documentation of this action is performed tautly and stylishly, the snappy prose packed with nice observations and punchy one-liners. Characterisation is solid throughout, too, with the villains particularly monstrous, and Dom’s wife and daughter strong and resourceful. And the finale when it comes is exciting and, at times, genuinely nasty, a fitting end to this headlong, gripping narrative.
On the whole, then, I greatly enjoyed this offbeat thriller, though by the end, reflecting on the whole, I couldn’t help feeling that Lebbon hadn’t quite pulled off the book’s central conceit, the thing upon which the whole novel’s verisimilitude rests. I simply felt that Dom’s character was a tad squeaky-clean to have decided to do what he does with Andy. Lebbon has a good go at convincing the reader that Dom’s tenuous sense of self makes him vulnerable to commit such an act, but I think maybe some more backstory, about a chequered past – perhaps a history of juvenile theft or something of the sort – might have left us believing that the guy would have put so much at risk and for relatively little gain.
This isn’t a major mark against the book in my mind – the story remains a gripping one, with so many other admirable qualities. I just personally wish this part of it had been developed a bit more thoroughly.
But don’t let me put anyone off what is essentially a great read. As thrillers go, it’s a very different one, and that’s always an appealing characteristic. All in all, it's really solid work.