Review: Or Else (Joe Hart)

Novelist Andy Drake returns to his old neighborhood to care for his dad, who is in the beginning stages of dementia. Also living in the neighborhood is his not so secret crush, Rachel, who is now married to an emotionally abusive man and has two kids.

A quick kiss at a cookout at Rachel’s spirals into something more. Until someone leaves a note in Andy’s door, telling him to knock it off, or else. Our first mystery: who left the note? The guy with the tiny dog, who no one seems to know anything about? An older lady, on her own, who likes to sit outside with her binoculars? Rachel’s husband David?

Several weeks later, Rachel’s husband is shot dead, and Rachel and the kids have disappeared. Andy, not currently working on the book that’s due to his editor, instead starts chasing up clues, and nearly gets himself shot in the process after breaking in to Rachel’s house, looking for anything that might indicate what her husband was up to or where she and the kids might be.

From details Andy’s able to glean, it seems David’s business isn’t doing as well as it appears – and David’s partner in the business has committed suicide, it seems.

After finding a business card in the house, he dithers a bit until he calls the number and says what appears to be a code word. After the other side hangs up, Andy thinks he’s on to something: did David owe these people money? Were they capable of killing David? When Andy gets a late night visit from a stranger he deems the Visitor, he knows the answer is yes. But the visitor insists they didn’t do it, and it’s believable, both to Andy and the reader.

Andy continues to go down the rabbit hole, eventually coming out the other side. There’s quite a nice twist at the end that was not telegraphed from chapters away, and it was a nice touch that made sense of things.

My only issue was with the beginning and some of the chapters that were more stream of consciousness than narrative. I get why they’re there, as it was the easiest way to get certain information into the book without having them be full-fledged narrative parts, but I wasn’t a fan.

Other than that, however, I enjoyed it quite a lot, and I believe readers who are used to tight neighborhoods or small towns especially will as well.

A solid four out of five star read.

Thanks to Thomas & mercer and NetGalley for the review copy.