7 May 2015

Review #209: City of Brick and Shadow by Tim Wirkus

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Never pity missionaries; envy them. They are where the real action is -- where life and death, sin and grace, Heaven and Hell converge.”

----Robert C. Shannon

Tim Wirkus, an American author, pens his debut novel, City of Brick and Shadow that follows the journey of two young missionaries who try to investigate the sudden disappearance of an old, recently baptized man.


Already struggling to keep their tiny congregation afloat, two Mormon missionaries stationed in the dangerous Latin American neighborhood of Vila Barbosa suspect the worst when Marco Aurelio, a man they recently baptized, disappears from a crowded street market. When the neighborhood's corrupt police force shows no interest, Elder Toronto and Elder Schwartz decide to investigate Marco Aurelio's disappearance themselves.

Breaking mission rule after mission rule, the elders doggedly pursue any clues that might lead them to their friend. As they interview the people who knew him--his short-tempered, bodybuilding brother; his gun-toting ex-wife; his mercurial former business partner--a tangled portrait emerges of an enigmatic con artist in over his head. At the edges of the investigation lurks a shadowy, mythical figure known only as the Argentine, a man who poses an increasingly dire threat to the two young missionaries as they plunge recklessly forward.

In a violent Latin American city of Vila Barbosa, two young missionaries, Elder Toronto and Elder Schwartz are appointed to serve their term as Mormon missionaries and preach the teachings of god and church. Upon Elder Schwartz's arrival to this strange town, Marco Aurelio, who was baptized in the church recently, disappears. And surprisingly no one is bothered with his disappearance. But Elder Toronto along with Elder Schwartz decides to find this missing man. Well they never thought that the stories about a dangerous mythical figure named Argentine would be real or that they would get ambushed in their own home or even get killed. The whole town is a mystery and more they get tangled into this mysterious disappearance of Marco Aurelio, they got one step closer to death.

Tim Wirkus proves to be a diamond in the rough with his writing style and especially the way he concocted his story. Well for the larger part of the story, it revolved around the life of missionaries, in general, like the purpose, meaning, their term, their line of work, their preachings, etc, and the author have put the whole picture in an insightful manner, going deep into the realms of missionary life style. The mystery was just there to thrill us with the flow of the story, and it doesn't guarantee anything, I mean the outcome of the mystery.

The pace of the book is bit slow, maybe due to the extent of intricacy that the author used to craft his plot. Yes the mystery is quite brain-twisting and is bound to keep you on your edges, in fact, with each step of the Elders, the danger come clawing at them and that is what glued me till the very end.

The characters are very well-developed and in a way, they are all bit mysterious, dark and strong. The protagonist, Elder Schwartz is a 19 year old missionary, preaching the lessons of god and church, yet still he and his companion, Elder Toronto are addressed as "Elders". Their relationship and their demeanor is more like Holmes and Watson. Elder Schwartz, the scared one, afraid to step into danger, whereas Elder Toronto is just his opposite in nature, determined, excited, always pushing his companion to the edge of the thrill.

The evil character, Argentine, is quite skillfully developed, who had a twisted mind like a criminal, and with all those stories, which we really don't know whether they are true, it proves that he didn't earn his power, he killed to get it and ruled over Vila Barbosa. His sinister smile might creep you out.

The effect of the violent neighborhood of Vila Barbosa is very evident from the storyline. The author have portrayed this sleepy yet dangerous town quite vividly. The author have captured it well from the lifestyle to the architecture to the climate to the demeanor of the Portuguese inhabitants.

In short, it is an unique plot, which is mildly compelling enough to keep us turning the pages of the book, till the end.

Verdict: Read it, if you enjoy an unconventional crime fiction.

Courtesy: Thanks to the author, Tim Wirkus', publicist, for providing me with a copy of the book, in return for an honest review. 

Author Info:
Tim Wirkus is a doctoral candidate in the University of Southern California's creative writing and literature program. His short fiction has appeared in The Best American Non-Required Reading, Subtropics, Cream City Review, Weird Fiction Review, Gargoyle, and elsewhere. His novella, Sandy Downs, won the 2013 Quarterly West novella contest. City of Brick and Shadow is his first novel.
Visit him here

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