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.