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Two weeks before Christmas, Duncan Wagner gets into his car for another attempt at kidnapping the son of his most despised enemy, State Representative Win Booker. When he drives into the wealthy Boston suburb, he is surprised to find the boy hitchhiking. So begins Wagner's quest for revenge as he finds himself face-to-face with a real boy, and without a clue about how to run a kidnapping. Wagner, a self-styled charity Santa Claus, comes to realize that eleven-year-old Gabriel Booker is truly a runaway, much more curious than scared. Gabriel has no idea who Duncan Wagner is--or could be.
Good Harbor Press (2007)
Reviewed by for Reader Views (12/07)
Stephen V. Masse combines a flair for writing an imaginative creative plot with colorful conversation and believable, likable characters. In “A Jolly Good Fellow” Duncan Wagner, a professional Santa Claus, who supports himself from the proceeds of his “beggar’s kettle,” plots a kidnapping.
After weeks of careful planning and surveillance, equipped with rope, chain, and duct tape, Duncan is ready to snatch his prey. Eleven-year-old, Gabriel, son of State Representative Win Booker, is the planned victim of the kidnapping. Ironically Gabriel decides to run away from home. He purposefully misses his school bus and is hitchhiking. As Duncan opens the car door to offer the young hitchhiker a ride, Gabriel slips in beside him.
As the plot unfolds there are multiple clever plot twists. Duncan finds Gabriel smart, vulnerable, and demanding. A bonding relationship between an unhappy man and a scared “kid” develops. Duncan soon realizes he has not thought through a plan for demanding ransom, a method of receiving the ransom, nor the consequences if ransom is refused.
Telephone demands and threatening notes are used to create an urgency that convinces stubborn and haughty Representative Win Booker to ante up the ransom demand. Pickpockets, muggers, a street artist and a former restaurateur all play a part in pulling the story together.
The setting of the story is downtown Boston. I could almost feel the chill in the air as Masse describes Gabriel shivering on a street corner. I could taste the sweetness of the candy cane as Gabriel stirs his cocoa while he and Duncan enjoy a late night conversation at the kitchen table.
I personally enjoyed Duncan’s first person account. His “blue collar” vocabulary is masterfully consistent throughout the narrative. The following paragraph is typical: “Get your coat on, we’re gonna go out for supper,” I says. I go in my room and grab some money, and put my Santa bag under the bed. Then I unlock Gabriel from the chain.”
“A Jolly Good Fellow” is delightfully funny, with a unique plot, an amazing cast of characters, and enough suspense to keep the reading guessing right up to the surprising unexpected conclusion. Stephen V. Masse is witty, clever, and entertaining. His books are destined to become best sellers. I am eager to read his upcoming book “Short Circus.”