“Book Review: Life for Life”
Reviewed by Joseph Haeger
The deadly sins of the past reach a thrilling conclusion in this final installment of the Talion Series
J.K. Franko’s Life for Life is the final book in the Roy Cruise trilogy, which is part of the larger Talion series. This trilogy (Eye for Eye; Tooth for Tooth; Life for Life) is chock-full of murder, deceit, and heartache, and this conclusion takes all the duplicitous events coursing through the overarching narrative and wraps them up successfully.
In the same way the second book is a direct reflection of the first, this third entry explores how these characters’ actions influenced the consequences we see here, while also taking on a greater theme of karmic justice. What does retribution mean in the greater sense of the universe? I’m not sure we get the exact answer in Life for Life, but it certainly puts the ideas forward, making us ponder the implications long after the last page.
The second book, Tooth for Tooth, ends on a cliffhanger. Roy and Susie Cruise are on the verge of being brutally murdered when the assailant is shot and killed by Kristy Wise. The kicker: the cops set up surveillance, so not only do they know a mysterious man showed up on the Cruises’ doorstep, but they also know he never left.
Now, with a legal case building against him, Roy finds himself in the courtroom trying his best to preserve his way of life. The mystery is almost completely gone with the shift in setting. We’re not on the open sea or in a beautiful foreign country seeing Roy plan a perfect murder—we’re in the confines of the courtroom, hoping his plans are as perfect as they seemed.
The detectives are underutilized in the first couple books, but with the inclusion of a prosecutor, they get their moment to shine here. Throughout this series, I find myself rooting for Roy, even as he commits horrific murders, but by going deep into the trial, we—as readers—are now part of the jury. We’re presented with the case, and we see the stark reality of who Roy is. We’ve built an emotional connection with him, but I still find myself unable to disagree with the prosecution. I know he’s guilty, but do I think he deserves the punishment at hand? I don’t know. It’s a strange thought to reconcile, and Franko gives us a satisfying conflict where we’re not totally sure how to feel about it. This creates a tension throughout the novel when there shouldn’t necessarily be any, and that’s an impressive feat to pull off.
Like Eye for Eye and Tooth for Tooth, there’s a series of seemingly unrelated flashbacks that eventually tie into a major plot point. In the first two books, the subplot weaves directly into the story and the actions taking place. No matter how off the wall the story seems, I always feel a confidence come out in the writing. There is a steady voice I can trust. In Life for Life, these moments don’t feel quite as solid. It leads to what is supposed to be an aha moment, but it comes out as a bit forced in the end. In the trilogy, we go from a tangible idea of “reap what you sow” to a metaphysical “cosmic karma,” and while it’s digging for a deeper connection, these ideas come in too late to have the intended resonance.
Life for Life is a slight departure from the preceding two novels, and that makes sense because it’s wrapping up the Roy Cruise storyline. Unfortunately, because we’re getting such a heavy depiction of the courtroom details, we’re not getting that same personal touch we’re used to. Had we gone into Roy’s or Detective Garza’s heads more often, I think the emotional connection would have been there and made up for the shift in setting.
With that said, the story does conclude in a satisfying way, even if I was hoping for more of an emotional gut punch. Having been so invested in the first two books, I had high hopes for Life for Life, and while it isn’t perfect, it still leaves me glad that I gave this series a shot.
Paperback: 416 pages
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