After years of owning a shop downtown, Van Russo is finally leaving the rarified air of The Olga. He won’t miss his pretentious neighbors or his busybody landlord, Gene. But on one of his last trips to remove his inventory from the shop, Van runs into the new maintenance guy, Maurice. He’s a tall drink of water and Van nearly gets to slake his thirst with Maurice, but Gene randomly appears and spoils the moment. Van decides that’s for the best. He wants a clean cut from The Olga and to start his new, home-based rare books operation without any loose ends.
The problem for Van is that transitioning to working from the home he inherited from his deceased grandfather cuts him off from people. Van has long been independent, preferring to work and live solo. And yet, he finds it’s absolutely nerve wracking to be alone and comes to realize that a break-in at work, then at home, then random attacks are all connected. He’s convinced these events are all related to the inheritance his grandfather left him, which is puzzling since there is nothing of great value. Armed with a detailed inventory of his grandfather’s belongings and a few cherished (but worthless in the rare books world) books stories, Van tries to discover what so many people already seem to know. But he’ll have to act quickly to figure out what exactly these mysterious people are after…and why it all seems to lead back to a single story.
Van Alone is a contemporary thriller from author Patrick Doyle. The story is broken down into chapters and everything is narrated in third-person omniscient from Van’s point of view. The perspective didn’t give me as much insight into why Van is so paranoid, but one of the strongest themes in the book is seeing just how suspicious and mistrustful of people Van is. This made for a stressful love-story thread between Van and Maurice. The two are undeniably attracted to each other and the book starts by having these two meet for the first time at the building where Van is quietly moving out and Maurice is the new janitor. After this spicy tease, the rest of their relationship is fraught. Van is paranoid Maurice is a plant and working with whoever has been breaking into his spaces and even convinces himself that Maurice is part of the group that physically attacks Van. Maurice pleads innocence time and time again, even when his role in all Van’s trouble gets muddied by actions and information that sometimes conflict. As far as romance goes, their connection has a bit of sizzle and slow burn vibes. Personally, I was frustrated with the way Van found umpteen different ways to throw suspicion on Maurice. I also wasn’t a big fan of their verbal interactions as the tone of their dialogue felt immature to me.
As far as the plot itself, the blurb really drew me in with Van being at the center of some mystery involving a treasure in his grandfather’s estate. It was appealing to me that Van inherited some fabulous thing and suddenly got targeted by some unknown criminal or criminals. At first, the individual scenes where these criminals try to find the treasure were exciting. Everyone who wasn’t Van was a possible culprit and I never knew how far they would go. As the story progresses, I felt a growing lack of cohesion between an ever increasing number of run-ins Van had with the criminals. I think this was driven by how little Van ever really finds out about how these criminals even knew about the treasure and how little seems to change in terms of balance of power. The end effect left me feeling like I was reading a disconnected series of unfortunately escalating attacks on Van, from break ins to encounters to beatings.
The quality of the narration left a little to be desired, too. Given this felt like a thriller with a supremely paranoid MC, I was surprised to notice a few continuity errors. Some were simple, like when Van suffered a physical attack and the doctor at the hospital assigned the un-injured Maurice caretaker duties, but when they’re home, it’s Van who declares he was assigned caretaker to Maurice. Some were big, like the gray car that Van suspects is tailing him around town. Chapter after chapter, Van grows increasingly paranoid of the people around him, knowing some of them are actually out to get him. But he doesn’t bat an eyelash when he discovers his neighbor drives a gray car. In fact, it seems like Van doubles down on giving the neighbor the benefit of the doubt. It was stupendous to me that Van would run hot and cold with Maurice about every little thing, yet completely set aside all reservations for his neighbor.
Overall, I was just disappointed in the execution of this book. The titillation is there and Van is so wonderfully paranoid. But for me, the tone of Van’s narration wasn’t up to the task. The little continuity errors and what, to me, felt like bigger issues with cohesion among events coming from the criminal’s side just dragged this story down for me. If you’re into books that go hard on a single character, you may enjoy reading about Van–a character who’s naturally kept himself apart from others and society, then discovers how horrible that is when people are actually out to get him. Or if you’re looking for a will-they-won’t-they romance that explores that latter option, you may like this story.