The Request by David Bell

Life is funny sometimes.  This is what I wrote almost exactly a year ago:

I will admit to being a fickle reader these days. My life has been rather crazy at the last four months or so, more anon on that perhaps, and so my mood seems to change regularly. Sometimes I am reading serious nonfiction, sometimes literary fiction but at other times what I really need is something to entertain and distract me from the chaos seemingly surrounding me. The search for intelligent books that still manage to do this, is always going on.

To say the last four months has been crazy is something of an understatement. What with my basement flooding the first day I started working from home due to a global pandemic which meant my kids engaging in digital learning at home with nearly half the house unusable and my daughter sleeping in the living room.  Somehow 2020 topped 2019.

Which brings us to David Bell for some reason.  The quote above comes from my review of Layover.  Coincidentally, I also read a David Bell book in June this year, this time The Request:

This is basically a fast paced summer/beach read which is perfect for when you are seeking entertainment and distraction rather than art/deep thought. As is often the case with these sort of novels, you have to kind of suspend belief a bit as the characters are not always fully developed, believable or likable.  But it has a fast pace and a good sense of suspense which is also what you are looking for when you just want an escapists type read.

As with The Layover, the hook (in this case, “sorta estranged college best friend asks for a favor which opens Pandora’s box of secrets and problems”) is what gets you interested and the pacing keeps you reading even as you start to think that most of the characters are annoying and/or stupid.

Much to my chagrin, last year I said “Layover served its purpose in giving me an entertaining distraction but it wasn’t good enough to make me want to seek out more of David Bell’s writing.” So what did I do when offered a review copy? Decided to read more David Bell.

In my defense, this quote from the review also turns out to be true of The Request: “Many readers might question whether the seemingly sane lead character, Joshua Fields, would really make the type of asinine decisions he does.”  I am guessing many readers ask the same thing about Ryan Francis.

And in defense of David Bell, it says something that he keeps you reading even as you ask that question. As the book rockets to its conclusion, Bell really keeps you guessing.  I figured some things out but was surprised by others and that is part of the appeal of a book like this: you are driven to find out what happens.

Or perhaps, we all enjoy thinking that the character is stupid and obviously WE would not be so stupid, etc.  I think there is some element of that going on as well as the question likely linerging in the back of everyone’s mind as they read: what would I do if faced with a similar situation?

One element of this story which I thought was kinda unique is that it has a very anti-social media theme to it. Social media plays a role in the plot and the editorial voice, if you will, is clearly anti-social media.  As an issue that I have been struggling with on and off for years, this also struck my interest.  Bell puts some pretty cutting remarks about social media into the dialog and, at least from my perspective, they weren’t a stretch.  The way we have become the paparazzi of our own lives is weird and probably not healthy.  Imagining how this plays out as accusations of murder and treachery play out in relationships is interesting food for thought.

So if you need a fast paced distraction from the craziness, you could do worse than the The Request (How is that for a backhanded compliment?)

Publishers Weekly is coming from a similar place:

Bell keeps the twists coming, but unconvincing dialogue that too often telegraphs what’s going to happen next undercuts the suspense. Readers who don’t mind a high level of contrivance will best enjoy this action-driven effort.

As I so often say, taste and preferences play a big role in whether you would enjoy this book.  It is not literary fiction but it is entertaining and fast paced.  Not to sound even more like a dad, but perhaps it is like junk food, fun to grab once in a while but not likely to be good for you in large doses.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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