The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

The Twelve Lives of Samuel HawleyThe Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a difficult book to classify. There are plenty of killings, but it’s not a murder mystery. There isn’t a single cop or detective working on any of them, at least reported in the story. The title refers to the many shooting incidents in which the title character, Sam Hawley, takes a bullet. Sandwiched between these episodes of violent gunplay, most of them in the distant past, are chapters of Hawley’s current life with his teenage daughter Loo. Those chapters form a rather standard coming of age story.

I can’t say I liked the story all that much, but it wasn’t as repellent as the level of violence would suggest. The characters were interesting; credible – not so much. I’ve seen many caper movies or similar escapist fare where you are to root for the criminal. I have no problem with that when the crooks are ripping off the bigger crooks (e.g. The Sting). I don’t have that feeling with the real scumbags (e.g. Bonnie and Clyde). I think Tinti was trying to hit that spot where the protagonist is likeable enough that we cheer him on. Unfortunately, she missed it, at least for me. Bear in mind I’m retired FBI and do not like criminals. Hawley is a rather despicable character, even though he loves his daughter and makes an effort to leave “the life.” I found myself rooting for him to survive his many criminal escapades solely for Loo’s sake, but the nature of the format is such that you know he will at least until the very end, so there is no suspense.

I can’t help but feel that the excessive violence was just a form of pandering to the baser readership instincts that drive book sales. I never developed an empathy for the characters. This resulted in a reading experience much like reading a series of police incident reports. Just the facts, ma’am. It was just good enough to keep me reading to the end, although I came close to putting it down and not picking it up again several times. Some long waits in the doctor’s office helped keep me on track with it.

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