Review of John Stith's 'Pushback'

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Review of John Stith's 'Pushback'

I usually review science fiction novels here. But when I came across Pushback, an adrenaline pumping mystery novel by John Stith, who wrote Red Shift Rendezvous, one of my all-time favorite science fiction novels, hey, how could I resist? Besides, the who dunnit of mystery and detective fiction is a close cousin of the what dunnit of science fiction.

The basic story of Pushback is an amiable investment counselor in Colorado Springs, Dave Barlow, finds himself the victim of an increasing series of pranks—increasing in both frequency and intensity—which soon became bizarre and sadistic attempts to murder him. It starts when he shows up to a high school reunion and nobody remembers him, because the people at the reunion are unknown to Dave and vice versa. This escalates into his car being filled with concrete, Dave almost killed in a hit-and run, his home leveled, Dave poisoned having dinner in a nice restaurant with a pretty actress trying to help him, and Dave nearly being blasted by a shotgun rigged to go off when he shows up at a client's home to talk finances. Who is behind this and why?

Dave may be amiable, but he's no slouch. He fights back with intelligence and style, reported through the wry voice of John Stith, who serves up this surprising tale with his customary eye for detail, keen sense of humor, and immersion in decades of popular culture. Dave is equally at home citing Z Z Top, and learning how to explode eggs in a microwave on YouTube. Middle-aged guys coming at Dave with golf clubs are "foursomes of the dead," and he notices a woman in tight jeans "closer to the paint family than the clothing family."

On that last point, there's plenty of romance in Pusback via Dave's new love, Cathy, and a winning tenderness throughout, making it no surprise that the novel was nominated for the Daphne du Maurier Award. The location in Colorado Springs makes for a great pastel background for this narrative, which, come to think of it, would look great on any kind of screen.

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Paul Levinson
Paul Levinson
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Paul Levinson

Paul Levinson's novels include The Silk Code (winner Locus Award, Best 1st Science Fiction Novel of 1999) & The Plot To Save Socrates. His nonfiction including Fake News in Real Context has been translated into 15 languages. 

See all posts by Paul Levinson