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Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Imposter, written by Gary Blackwood. Red Deer Press, 2012. $12.95 ages 12 and up

"Ollie said it with a smile that appeared sympathetic. But Ryan had studied facial expressions extensively, and he saw something else in it. Secret triumph, perhaps? Could she possibly have put the hot pepper in there as a sort of message to him, a message that said, I know what you're up to, and I'm not going to say anything, but I am going to make your life miserable?"

Ryan Waite has been the breadwinner in his family for a long time, given that he is only 14. His father is gone, his mother is unable to work because of injuries suffered in a car crash and her dependency on alcohol.The food they eat and the apartment they live in is paid for by a Mother's Allowance and Ryan's income.
When he blows an audition for a part in Les Miz, he is feeling down on his luck. Herschel Burton knows that. He, too, is down on his luck and looking to score big in his search for the son of a very wealthy man whose health is waning. The payout will be a big one, and he promises Ryan more money than he has seen from any of his previous acting gigs if he will impersonate the man's long lost son. Burton tells Ryan that the son is dead, he will only have to stay for two weeks, and there won't be any long as Ryan is the actor he says he is.

If you are a reader, you know there are going to be problems and you can feel it in your bones as you move forward with this fast-paced tale. First of all, Burton is not your upstanding, forthright private investigator. He has few clear answers for Ryan's questions. Burton recognizes Ryan's dire straits and is willing to use them to get him to do his bidding. Ryan has little recourse. They desperately need the money, he can convince his mother that he has a gig with a touring company; so he agrees.

When he and Burton arrive in Halifax, Ryan meets Ken Kurz, the father of Allen, the missing son. He turns out to be a very nice man, with a lovely daughter and a bit of a manipulative and suspicious wife.  Ryan (Allen) likes Kelley and she thinks he is great. She takes him riding and helps him understand some of the family dynamics. The stay gets more complicated as Ollie, the stepmother, becomes more focused on making his life miserable and finding the truth. Then, just as Ryan decides he will make his exit, the phone rings and everything changes.

The setting is Toronto, then Halifax and both have a part to play as the story unfolds. Gary Blackwood creates believable, convincing characters and fills the pages with drama, mystery, and a lot of discomfort for me as I tried to imagine being in Ryan's shoes. He's a great actor, but so many things seem to working against him. He doesn't have enough information about Allen, and Burton leaves him high and dry to deal with all events on his own. There is a consistent aura of suspense and that kept me reading far into the night. I wanted to know Ryan's fate.

In the end, Ryan learns that being an improv actor is much harder in real life than it is on stage. He becomes a more empathetic person when he realizes that his acting has impacted the lives of people he has come to admire.

Great writing....a page turner that will find new fans and then send them looking for other books by this very accomplished writer. 

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