River shmiver. Bully is where it’s at.

I first met JF Gonzalez at a book signing in Virginia, where he was doing a book signing with about seven other authors. I had picked up his book or short stories, Maternal Instinct, and the story of the same name blew me away.

A few months later, Survivor – a full blown novel based off the Maternal Instinct short story – hit my hands, and I blew right throw it. Survivor, a family tale about snuff movies, a kidnapped woman and, well, survival, was intense as hell and showed that this guy wasn’t afraid to touch any taboo subject. I liked it.

So, when Gonzalez’s third novel, Bully, was announced, I immediately placed my pre-order. Weeks later, I had it in my hands and then I put it to the side. I was in the middle of two books at the time. You know how it goes.

After meeting Gonzalez again at another signing, I put Bully at the top of my pile so I could read it before HorrorFind – where he would be doing a reading appearance. The sweet thing about author appearances is, in my experience, they are always willing to answer any questions you have about their work. And, given the opportunity, I always ask questions. No, I have never asked “Where do you get your ideas?” That, hands downs, is probably the dumbest thing you can ask an author.

Anyway, I didn’t read the back of the book to see what it was about before I started it. Sometimes, with authors you know you like, it doesn’t really matter what the back of the book. It’s not going to stop you from reading it, and, like a movie trailer, the back of the book is sometimes misleading.

But about halfway through Bully, I did look at the back of the book. Because Bully wasn’t quite like Gonzalez’s previous work. It was more of a mystery than a mental beatdown.

Bully is the story of an innocent man set free as a decades old murder investigation is reopened, police corruption, dysfunctional families and things kids should never, ever see. The book mainly centers around Danny, a man who was tormented by Raul, the boy the now-innocent man was accused of raping an murdering. Danny knows much more than he’s telling the police, but Gonzalez makes you wait to hear his whole story. He drags it out so slowly  and so well that if it were a movie, I’d be tempted to fast forward to the end. Very well done, sir.

The book cover calls it a cross Mystic River meets The Lords of Dogtown. The Dogtown is right on, because Gonzalez nails that ’80s feel of skateboarding kids, but I think Mystic River is a bit off. Yes it has that feel as far as story, but Bully is a far better book than River. It has more heart, more soul and is a more enjoyable read. There’s another book that I would compare it to, but to put it here would be a spoiler, due to the book’s topic.

The one let down of the book is the ending. Well, the second ending. The final chapter, the epilogue I guess, is entirely too forced. It’s as if Gonzalez was tying up a loose end that didn’t need to be tied up, and going for either a setup for a sequel or trying for a shocking ending. But it doesn’t work because the book is perfectly fine up until that last chapter.

That doesn’t hurt the book, though, because it’s the best I’ve read from Gonzalez to date. But, when you read it – because you really should – just stop before the final chapter. If you do read that final chapter, think of it as an alternate ending as opposed to the real thing.

You can pick the book up at Amazon, and I highly recommend it. It’s $15, as it is not a trade paperback, but it’s well worth the money.