The Third Person by Steve Mosby

This is the first time, since I have posted my thoughts on books here, that I have a mixed response to a novel. This all due to personal preference and not the writing, therefore I’d urge you, if reading this post, to stick with it, until the end.

As part of the Orion New Blood book promotion, The Third Person was described by Orion as “A dark, uneasy and brilliant debut crime novel”.

Amy Sinclair walked out on her boyfriend Jason Klein leaving a note that said “This isn’t some kind of ‘dear John’ letter. I’m coming back again.” But, Amy did not come back again. Initially, Jason respected her need for space, but as time elapsed that respect turned to worry and fear, so he followed her trail, starting on the internet, where he discovered she had a secret life and was in contact with the most horrific people.

Jason works out that one of those individuals took Amy and, at risk of losing his job, he spends time in a chat room baiting the man until he can set a trap.

This is indeed a visit to the dark side, a very dark side. I read the book only having read the blurb on the cover and I did not read any reviews until I had finished it. I discovered that The Third Person has a couple of themes in the plot that are not to my taste. So why did I read on then? Well, because above all else, this a mystery I wanted to see resolved; a good mystery, at that.

I became a tad confused someway into the novel and finished it wanting some confirmation. Therefore, I think it’s helpful if you know in advance of reading, that this is not just a novel with a contemporary theme, it is also set at some point in the future, a time period which is not disclosed in the novel. I’d estimate that this may be up to 50 years hence, and if it is, or if the time gap is even smaller, then God help us. This is set at a time when the police force is now back in public ownership having been privatised at some earlier point. Eek!

A purely personal preference here, but I don’t like my reading set in the future. The main reason is that, for me, like science fiction, and unlike a pure contemporary crime fiction novel, gaps can be closed in any way the writer chooses, it’s all up to his/her imagination. I like, prefer and devour the finite world in which we currently live, or have lived.

The crime of rape entered the plot, which is also something I prefer not to read. Rape is always very difficult to deal with and in my reading experience is very frequently handled without the sensitivity and respect the victims deserve. Having said that, Mosby, who was 26 when his book entered the market place, does bring immense sensitivity and respect to the subject matter; amazingly so. But, there is also more than one rape in this story. I found this a dark side that I really didn’t want to spend any length of time within. Perhaps that explains why I read the book so quickly.

So, two themes that put me off my stride, but I did carry on reading. Again, I’d emphasise: there is a mystery here and I wanted to find out exactly what had happened and why.

Mosby is very, very good with prose. He can turn up the velocity, on times, with a pace akin to professionals on a skating rink. Within that, there are excellent passages of probing prose which can sometimes be lost in the general text and the temptation is to skim over them, when really, the temptation should be to read, savour and enjoy, at length and at will.

I also thought that knowledge of Amy’s ultimate fate came way too soon. Thereafter it becomes a prologue before we hit the section entitled “prologue”.

So yes, when I finished it, I concluded this book was not for me. It had a mystery and it had a great pace, but the bases of the story and the plot were not for me. But I may not be alone, I’m sure. Many would like the futuristic element of this book. Many can and could read the sort of story I normally shy away from.

Mosby, as a new writer on the block, has exceptional skill. It just wasn’t a story I’d like to read or enjoy reading.

Seeing that the follow up, The Cutting Crew is also set in the future, but that The Damage Door on which he is currently working appears not, I contacted Mosby, asking him if all his books are set in the future and I wonderfully received the following within his response:

“In all honesty, I never thought of them as being futuristic books in that sense – they’re more alternate worlds than anything else. With The Third Person, I exaggerated certain details, like the advertising and the privatisation of the police force (although that might be predictive, God help us). And it just happened that the world I wanted to write about had that quirky feature where writing takes the places that video and film fill in our current culture. It requires a suspension of disbelief, I know, and The Cutting Crew even more so. Cutting Crew isn’t remotely futuristic, but involves a full-on leap into fantasy/horror three-quarters of the way through. It’s not sci-fi though. They’re both just set in locations that I totally made up, that operate under slightly skewed laws of physics.”

And Mosby raised a very key point within this answer, for his use of writing as a replacement to the way film and video are currently used in our culture creates a highly original concept in The Third Person.

He then went on to suggest, given my sensitivities, that I ditch any suggestion of reading The Cutting Crew and pick up on his third book, The Damage Door, which is not set in the future.

I read The Third Person experiencing page turning efficiency, even though I‘d have preferred not to have dived into that unknown given the resulting plot. I also experienced many passages of excellent and thought provoking prose that made stop and wonder.

For Mosby, this was a damn good debut and evidence of an author with a lot to bring to the world to crime writing. I am looking forward to picking up on book three, The Damage Door, which is neither “futuristic nor strange”. His words. On the evidence of The Third Person, Mosby is an author leading up to the pinnacle of extremely good quality. He is very certainly worthy of an Orion New Blood promotion and he has already brought a second book to the market place. This is good thought provoking stuff from someone so young. Mosby is someone to watch out for, even if I almost hated his debut. “Almost” being the key word here. I almost loved his debut too; but I very definitely hated and hid from the plot themes. That was simply not to my taste. I have to admit he goes where I would prefer not to go in The Third Person. But perhaps that is now my awakening? I’m now old enough to remember “the good old days” and Mosby has just put me on high alert at what might come in the future. Pass the Prozac please…

No, seriously, if you don’t mind a crime novel set in the future and you don’t mind reading about the impact of the most heinous crimes, then I think you’ll find The Third Person a very good read.

And considering I hated the subject matter, The Damage Door is definitely on my “to read” list when it comes out. Mosby is a good writer, bringing excellent characterisation, pace and plotting, and exploring the world we may find ourselves in at some point in the near future.

For more about Steve Mosby and his books, see here.

For some inspiration on what it takes to get into print and get onto the shelves at your local or internet book seller, see here.