Nicholas Sparks's new novel, THE GUARDIAN, clearly challenges the time honored maxim "man's best friend". While Sparks is known for writing sappy love stories that pull on the reader's heartstrings, THE GUARDIAN is undoubtedly his finest work.
The novel's main character, a widow named Julie Barenson, receives a puppy that her husband arranged before his untimely death. Although Singer, a Great Dane, challenges Julie's patience on more than one occasion, her beloved four-legged friend is at the right place when she needs him the most.
Although THE GUARDIAN at first appears to be another tearjerker from Sparks, whose seventh novel will surely be atop the bestseller lists within no time, it is completely different from his debut novel, THE NOTEBOOK, or NIGHTS IN RODANTHE, which comes out in paperback in June.
Don't worry Sparks fans. THE GUARDIAN takes place in another small southern town, Swansboro, N.C. And, of course, it contains a deep-rooted love story, the kind that has catapulted Sparks into literary stardom. But what's different about THE GUARDIAN from his other six novels is that this novel is extremely chilling at times. It is pulse pounding, breathtaking, suspenseful and intriguing.
Without giving too much of the plot away, the book starts out when Julie receives a surprise gift on Christmas Eve in 1998 -- an adorable puppy. The animal is exactly what she needs to help her deal with the recent loss of her husband, Jim. Fast forward to 2002. Singer and Julie have become best friends, but Julie yearns to start a new relationship --- but with whom? Well, there's Mike Harris, who works as a mechanic and was her husband's best friend and best man in her wedding. Then there's Richard Franklin, a strikingly handsome transplant to the area. Julie dates Richard for a while but decides there's just nothing there and starts to see Mike.
Unfortunately, the rejection is too much for Richard to handle and he just can't cut his losses and be friends with her. This is where the pace of the book really gains momentum. Instead of being a gentleman about the whole thing, Richard turns into a menacing creep and calling Julie over and over and hanging up the phone when she answers. He then pops up when she's out walking Singer and when she's shopping for groceries.
Richard shows up at a nightclub where Julie and Mike happen to be and Mike loses his cool and brawls with Richard. Wow! Violence in a Nicholas Sparks book? This has got to be a first. Besides being a well-crafted love story, THE GUARDIAN is also a compelling police drama complete with guns, of course.
Although Sparks's work isn't as gritty or dogged as the work of a James Patterson or Michael Connelly, he does fine in developing tightly written fiction relating to police work. He furthers his story line with Pete Gandy and Jennifer Romanello, two of the town's cops on complete opposite ends of criminal justice. Gandy is a townie who thinks he is a super cop and has Richard all figured out; he tells Jennifer the case is closed. Meanwhile, Jennifer, a Bronx native whose father was a member of the NYPD, doesn't think too highly of Gandy and clearly believes Richard is up to no good.
Despite being a surprising thriller from Sparks, the copyediting could have been a little tighter. Near the end of the novel, Sparks mentions a 1994 Pontiac Trans Am, but then refers to the car as being a 1984 Trans Am. Which is it? Even though it can be considered a minor error, inaccurate details like this can sometimes ruin a perfectly written novel. In the Author's Note, Sparks says the manuscript was a challenge for him and went through eight revisions. After eight revisions, there is no excuse for the aforementioned miscue.
Reviewed by David Exum on November 16, 2011