Review of “The Tollkeeper” by Mark R. Vickers

I’m glad to be writing a review of a novel written by someone like myself. The author recently joined the writing group I’m in, and he had published this story in paperback form. Other members of the group have published but I didn’t find any with hardcopies available. I’m not ready to commit to ebooks yet; I’m trying to give my eyes a rest. I didn’t start posting reviews of novels until recently, so I haven’t shared my views on the range of genres I’ve read. I read anything. This book falls into the category of stories I would never read if I cared. I know, that sounds crazy.

First the technical stuff. There were very few (if any) punctuation and grammatical errors in this book. The author acknowledged a proofreader’s assistance, and she did a good job. I mention this because, as an author and (mediocre) copy editor, I look for anything that doesn’t read smoothly. And I read slowly, so I don’t miss much. I noticed a little of what I call writer’s fatigue, however; the first half of the book is well-written, if a little wordy (I actually don’t mind that, but some people do), whereas the second half started to slip a little in tautness. By the last page, it was looking like an earlier draft than the first half. I’m familiar with this phenomenon from my own writing. The first part always get read more by the author and thus cleaned up. However, this wasn’t a problem in “The Tollkeeper.” I only mention it to be thorough.

The story is told in a very entertaining manner, with two threads, one in present-day Florida, and the second meandering through the central character’s life, describing events that brought him to Florida, where he’s a (you guessed it) tollbooth attendant. There were times when one or the other thread was more interesting, but I never lost interest in the story. The present-day is the main plot of course, and it was told by the central character in first-person using the present tense. I personally find this construction awkward because no one talks like that unless telling a short story (e.g., Janice says to Betty, “So I go over to the hair stylist and she’s like, out of it, and I go ahead and let her do my hair.”). See what I mean?

It almost works but I never got into the groove. I liked the narration other than that. Klaus is a very down-to-earth guy, who’s old enough not to take himself too seriously. A great antihero.

I’m not a fan of mythical fantasy novels, or even mythology in general. I had to use Google to learn about most of the Norse mythology referenced throughout the book. I didn’t mind because I felt like I was being introduced to an interesting (not really) aspect of Scandinavian culture. It was a learning experience that I can relate to (I try to put useful info into my stories as well), so I’m not complaining. Still, the quotes from epic poems and such at the beginning of each chapter could have been replaced by more informative background material.

The ending was unexpected but probably only because of my unfamiliarity with Norse mythology. I felt like it was rushed a little because so much time had been spent on Klaus’ early life that the author must have felt an urge to “wrap it up.” This brings up another problem with the structure. With so much time spent on Klaus’ early life, none of it related directly to the serious threat occurring in the contemporary world. It only supported the central character’s frame of mind, not the real conflict. With the knowledge the author obviously has of Norse mythology, I was disappointed that characters from Klaus’ past didn’t either show up in person or indirectly impact current events. Maybe they did and I missed it because I’m not familiar with Norse mythology.

If so, my bad.



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