Glass Walled Houses (Charley Trilogy #2), by Eric Keller

Eight stars

First and foremost, thank you to Eric Keller for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After thoroughly enjoying his debut novel, it was a no-brainer that I would devour this second book in the Charley series. Keller keeps the story fresh, while spacing out the two novels, in an effort to allow the proverbial dust to settle. After his work with Charley Ewanuschuk, Brian Cox left the paltry life of defence work to join the Crown Prosecutor’s Office. The criminal work in Calgary is such that he could keep himself busy, while also finding inexcusable ways of alienating his wife and new baby. When Charley seems to appear outside the courthouse after a particular devastating day for Cox, Brian cannot shake a chill up his spine and memories of how their last encounter ended. Meanwhile, Carl Gibson has his own set of struggles: a failing marriage, children who have a complete disinterest in him, and a run-down apartment not even fit for a pauper. After a neighbour and high-profile child pornographer is stabbed to death, Gibson seeks to make a name for himself with media outlets, as well as some of the darker message boards he has come to use for his online news. Gibson wants the attention, though veils himself in an online moniker, as though he can control his stardom. Dealt her first case after a recent move to Homicide, Inspector Tina Walker is forced to play gofer to a senior partner whose jaded view on life ties into the fate of his last partner. Still, they lock in on Gibson and his apparent seeking out fame and use it to fuel their investigation. While Gibson seems to have seen a nondescript homeless man at the scene, all eyes seem to be firmly focussed on the man seeking too much attention. As Brian buries himself in work and finally confesses something to his wife, Charley continues his reintegration into Calgary society with a secret of his own. The reader learns much about the four years that Charley was away and a mysterious woman who turned him into some sort of thief and mission-driven criminal. Has Charley returned on a new mission and might it involve Brian? Can Gibson get ahead of the likely charges that await him for the murder of his neighbour? Does Inspector Walker have what it takes to handle Homicide for the long-term? Keller explores these and many other plots in this powerful follow-up crime thriller that will keep readers hooked until the final pages. A wonderful addition to the series, which awaits a final book to complete the trilogy.

When Keller approached me to read his first novel, Half-Built Houses, I was keen to try it. Why not explore what a local author has to say about this, my current city of residence? I devoured that book as I learned about the struggles Charley Ewanuschuk had as a homeless man and his fledging lawyer, Brian Cox, faced as a legal-aid attorney. Keller returns with something even better here, as he fleshes out these two men in sensational fashion while adding a slew of new and highly unique characters. Developing his Cox and Ewanuschuk characters adds a certain flavour to the story, but it is Carl Gibson who takes centre stage here, able to impress and capture the reader from the start. Adding Tina Walker only gives the story more intrigue, especially as she pokes around and tries to make a name for herself. The story, set in Calgary, offers more rich narrative spins as the setting develops. I could see the characters wandering around and peeking into my neighbourhood at one point. I loved that aspect and felt even closer to things as they progressed. Rather than being that pretentious ‘find the killer and bring them to justice’ story, Keller has built this case, as the title suggests, on the premise of the outside world looking in on a man who wants some notoriety, as long as it does not curse him too much. While the killer remains at large, the cat and mouse game takes the story into various side stories, one of which is the evolution (or devolution) of Charley and his ‘mission’ back in Calgary. Keller plays on the Charley character well and tries to offer him a great space throughout, while not stealing the show. I was highly impressed with the story, its presentation, and the ease with which the entire narrative flowed. I hope many find and read both novels so that they, too, can wait anxiously to see how it all ties together in the yet to be completed final book of the trilogy.

Kudos, Mr. Keller for another explosive novel. I am eager to see where you take things and hope to be front and centre for that ride as well!

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Half-Built Houses, by Eric Keller

Eight stars

First and foremost, thank you to Eric Keller for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

The next book on my independent author list included a courtroom drama with a twist. Set in Calgary, I hoped not only to become enveloped in the story, but also see some of the random mentions of my current city of residence. Charley Ewanuschuk has had a hard life, having been bullied throughout his youth in small-town Alberta before he was shipped to the big city by a less than loving mother. On an especially frigid winter night, Charley witnesses a woman being strangled before her body is left in the snow. Fleeing his squatter’s residence, Charley runs off before his conscience eventually leads him to Legal Aid. Seeking some legal advice as he knows he will somehow be a person of interest, Charley tells his outlandish story to struggling lawyer, Brian Cox. When the police come to investigate, they find clues that point to Charley’s potential involvement and he is eventually charged with the murder of Natalie Peterson. Turning mute, Charley is uncooperative, which leaves Cox to try piecing together a defence based on the shaky story he was told that first night. Meanwhile, Hugh Young lurks in the shadows, a successful businessman whose considerable wealth has become beneficial when it comes to cleaning up the messes left by his son, Jason. This time, Jason’s assault and murder of Natalie have forced Hugh to pull out all the stops. As long as Jason can remain calm and only answer the questions put to him, there is a chance that this homeless man, Charley, will be found guilty. However, as certain aspects of Jason’s narrative prove shaky, Cox receives new hope, but is it enough? A compelling story with a thorough legal plot, perfect for those who love seeing the courtroom in all its glory. 

When Keller reached out to me, he used the lure of Calgary to pique my interest. After starting the book, I would other aspects that had me hooked as well. I found the use of Calgary to be quite intriguing, peppering landmarks and street names throughout the story, though it was not a central focus of the narrative. Keller shows his superior ability to craft realistic characters who present themselves as both unique and yet believable in this type of story, which adds momentum as the story’s pace quickens. The reader learns much about the backstory of Charley Ewanuschuk, the determination of Brian Cox, and the slimy presentation of Jason Young, as well as the other characters that hold the larger story together flawlessly. Many writers will tell a legal thriller by showing the crime and how the authorities will pursue individuals until the accused can be found and (sometimes) sentenced for the crime. However, Keller takes things further, detailing the crime, the investigation, and then the courtroom developments, including the banter between Crown and Defence attorneys as they examine witnesses on the stand, all while not losing some of the out-of-court struggles that befall both sides during trial. Keller’s understanding of the Canadian legal process is notable and he paces the story perfectly without drowning the reader in minutiae. A powerful novel that tells multiple stories within its pages, Keller is certainly an author worth noting as the reader hopes to see more writing in the years to come. 

Kudos, Mr. Keller for this wonderful debut novel. Your writing style is refreshing and injects much life into the genre. I trust another legal thriller is in the works, taking us back to the gritty streets of Calgary.