Review: The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

samuel hawleyThe Premise: after years on the run, Samuel Hawley returns to Olympus, Massachusetts to start a life with his daughter, Loo. But Hawley bears the scars of a dangerous life – literally, with bullet wounds riddling his body – that, it appears, is pretty difficult to outrun.

Thoughts: I won this book in a giveaway by the publisher on Twitter; if I hadn’t, I’m not sure that I would have picked it up, which would have been a shame. It’s an exciting and intriguing story; in hardback, it looks enormous and, in fairness, it is pretty long at nearly 500 pages, but the story whizzes past at such a rate that I didn’t really notice the length.

Tinti has neatly divided the book, with chapters telling the story of Loo’s life in Olympus, learning about her mother’s death and father’s life alternating with Hawley’s past, with each of these chapters focusing on how he got his bullet wounds. When different narratives interweave, I usually find myself with a strong preference for one or the other, but I enjoyed both the flashbacks and the present in The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, especially the way the sections about the past led up to the present. It also helps to create the ambience of a thriller, particularly as Hawley’s criminal dealings become more dangerous and evident; I wouldn’t ordinarily read something in that genre, but this has made me think I should be more open-minded.

Tinti has a real gift for characterisation; I liked the small-town mentality of Olympus and how this was expressed through a cast of interesting, albeit largely not very pleasant characters. The shady characters of Hawley’s past are menacing without being caricatured, while Hawley himself is enigmatic and creepy. There are intriguing background subplots in the form of Loo’s relationship with a boy whose mother hates Loo and Hawley, as well as the connected subplot concerning the bitterness between the community’s fishermen and the campaign to restrict their activities. It all helps to build a rich and fascinating atmosphere.

In Conclusion: an excellent read all-round, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley would be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys thrillers, mysteries or family sagas. It’s an expansive yet intimate novel which both entertains and unsettles.

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