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Review: The White Van by Patrick Hoffman

The Ian Fleming Steel Dagger celebrates the very best of the thriller genre.

Ian Fleming said there was one essential criterion for a good thriller – that “one simply has to turn the pages” – and this is one of the main characteristics that the judges will be looking for when they pick their winner. Seven titles have been shortlisted for the award this year, and we’ll be looking at each one in turn with the help of book bloggers and reviewers.

Up next is Gavin Pugh with his thoughts on The White Van by Patrick Hoffman.

Over to Gavin:

The White Van is a little grim. Emily Rosario is drinking in a bar when she’s approached by a mysterious and wealthy Russian. A week later she finds herself drugged up, disorientated, and wanted for robbery. On the other side of town a broke, alcoholic and desperate cop hears about a bank robbery and the still missing stolen money proves too strong a temptation. He tries to solve the case and find the money before anyone else does.

The White VanIt’s only 240 pages long but Patrick Hoffman manages to peel back the facade of the bright streets of San Francisco to allow the reader to peer into the minds of Emily and the policeman, Leo Elis, as well as other unsavoury characters caught up in the events by exploring revealing what happens before, during, and after.

At the end of chapter one Hoffman switches point of view. In the first chapter Hoffman has deftly immersed the reader in the thoughts of Emily as she tries to figure out where she is and what’s happening to her. When we switch to the mind of Leo he is presented as a sledgehammer of an info dump. It feels jarring because Leo isn’t actually likeable and the reader doesn’t get chance to form a more compassionate opinion in the same way we have got to know Emily. Instead we are told to despise him.

Hoffman might have done it to get the reader ‘up to speed’ but it makes it a relief to find out that chapter three changes viewpoint again. If I wasn’t writing this review I’d have strongly considered putting The White Van down when Leo is first introduced. Luckily for me I had to read on and found it is the only jarring moment. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of uncomfortable experiences for the characters – like I said it is a grim book – and when we eventually switch back to Elis I wanted to know what was going on in his head and what he was going to do next.

Hoffman manages to combine the pull of ‘what the hell can happen next?’ with linger longer so the other players aren’t disposable secondary points of view. They have a past which leads them directly to the bank and they suffer consequences of their choices.

The White Van is an unforgiving read. Hoffman is also a private investigator, and spent five years at San Francisco’s Public Defender’s Office so I’m sure he’s seen a lot which goes out in alleyways and behind doors. I wouldn’t know whether to call this realistic but it is real for the characters.

Hoffman makes you watch when you’d rather turn away and where other writers may fade to black he brings out the spotlight and almost holds your shoulder to stop you from running away.

For that reason this is a book you’ll either book glued to or you’ll need to take breaks from but in the end you’ll be glad you survived.”

Have you read The White Van? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…

Read a review of the CWA Steel Dagger shortlisted novel The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.

Gavin Pugh

Gavin is a blogger, soon-to-be vlogger, and the host of the reading-related podcast An Unreliable Reader.

Follow Gav on Twitter.

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