Book of the Week
Ethan Lockhart is doing time in a Nevada prison for armed robbery. He’s baffled to suddenly learn he’s being handed 48 hours of furlough – unsupervised – to attend his sister Abby’s funeral. Ethan’s release comes with conditions – no booze, no drugs, no possession of weapons, no driving, no leaving the state, no crime of any sort, not even jaywalking. Good luck.
Who arranged for the release and why is it unsupervised are not immediately answered.
Ethan’s release is the setup in Andrew Bourelle’s violence-spiked noir thriller “48 Hours to Kill.”
The book is not about Ethan looking to kill time while he’s out. No thrill there. It’s about Ethan seeking to avenge what he believes is his sister’s murder. The cops assume Abby is dead because of the large amount of blood she lost. But her body hasn’t been recovered. At her funeral there’s an open – and empty – casket into which guests drop mementos of Abby.
Bourelle said he made a conscious choice not to sugarcoat Ethan’s violent world in and out of prison.
Yet Ethan has a soft side. He’s shown as having been a loving older brother. And Abby has adored him.
“The challenge was to create a criminal who is sympathetic, one to root for,” Bourelle, an Albuquerque resident, said in a phone interview. Indeed, Ethan becomes a sympathetic character though he returns to criminality. The author said he didn’t want to paint Ethan as neither completely sociopathic nor completely irredeemable.
In search of leads to find his sister, dead or alive, Ethan beats up bad guys he once worked with. He goes after his former boss, Shark, a club owner and now a major crime figure in Reno. He lands a blow to the face of Abby’s neighbor who spies on and secretly photographs her. He attacks a FBI agent who’s been having an affair with Abby. Ethan is pretty much a lone wolf in the hunt, except when he allows Whitney, Abby’s best friend, to act as his sidekick. Both end up in harm’s way. The violence gets a rest when Whitney and Ethan’s friendship turns to romance and sex.
“My goal all along was to create a narrative that keeps you moving, keeps you wanting to turn the pages,” Bourelle said. He succeeds.
“It’s not as easy as people think to make a fast-paced read,” the author added.
One literary device that effectively speeds the pace and heightens the tension is breaking the novel into very short chapters; most chapters are successive scenes in a countdown starting from two hours before Ethan’s release. For example, Chapter 26 is introduced with “Ethan/38 hours, 21 minutes remaining.” Three pages later Chapter 27 begins with “Ethan/36 hours, 37 minutes remaining.” The clock is ticking. I like Bourelle’s originality with metaphors. In one scene, Ethan and Whitney are handcuffed on a yacht on a frigid lake: “The (lake’s) surface was black with light reflecting from the moon, like glittering scales on a serpent whose skin stretched in every direction.”
Later, when Ethan is about to reenter prison, he proclaims he won’t die from his multiple injuries, though he is “sounding like his vocal cords had been run over with a belt sander.”
Bourelle is familiar with Nevada. He lived in the Reno area for 12 years, working as a newspaper reporter and attending graduate school. On occasion his reporting took him to the prison in Carson City. He drew on those visits in shaping the novel’s prison scenes.
As for Ethan’s unsupervised prison furlough, Bourelle said, it’s probably an unrealistic concept.
“48 Hours to Kill” was published by Crooked Lane Books with the help of a literary agent.
“It took awhile to find an agent … who loved the book and championed it. So I put it in her hands,” he said. Bourelle is an associate professor of English at the University of New Mexico. In that position he is expected to publish. “I am busy with teaching, with committee work, so I do have to set aside time for writing. I don’t sleep much. I do a lot of writing at night. I hop out of bed and try to write, catch up on schoolwork. I try not to sacrifice family time,” he said.
In some of his UNM classes, he and his students talk about the difficulties of getting published, of finding an agent, the process of writing. “Students are often daunted by the magnitude of writing a novel,” Bourelle said. “I may bring up my own books in that context. People tend to benefit from other writers’ experience.”
Bourelle’s debut novel was “Heavy Metal,” a coming-of-age story. Its publication in 2017 was the result of his winning the Autumn House Fiction Prize.
Bourelle was also co-author with James Patterson on the thrillers “Texas Ranger” and “Texas Outlaw.” Many of Bourelle’s short stories have appeared in literary magazines and fiction anthologies.