Book review: Flashes by Tim O’Rourke

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Most good books have a cover and/or a blurb that hook you right in from the get-go, and Tim O’Rourke’s Flashes is definitely one of those. A mysterious young girl standing on the train tracks, references to crime and strange goings on, and O’Rourke almost has you gripped before you’ve even opened the book. It’s an opportunity missed by many books, which often copy the style of other well-known releases rather than looking to stand out from the crowd. Thankfully, Flashes manages to be interesting inside and out.

The tale is told from two main perspectives – that of Charley, a young girl who experiences bizarre moments of somewhat supernatural or psychic visions which she likes to call ‘flashes’, and of Tom, a fledgling police officer eager to climb up the ranks. Their paths inevitably cross due to Charley’s pursuit of the truth in relation to her flashes, trying to connect the dots between what she sees and what happens in the local news. With Tom on the scene, she has someone to confide in, and together they take a journey of discovery, deception and romance.

I must admit that I found the romance element to be a little forced at first. Overall it’s a story concept that’s ended up overused in recent times, when many stories simply don’t need the main characters to get together romantically. You can probably blame Twilight and similar popular books for that. However, O’Rourke manages to flesh out the relationship between Charley and Tom beyond a stereotypical young couple to a more emotional and supportive one. The story ends up working better because of it, as it raises the stakes for all involved, and makes the situations Charley ends up in feel all the more real and perilous.

To O’Rourke’s credit, the repartee and banter between Tom and his fellow police officers always feels genuine and authentic. It never feels like a cheap rip off of similar interactions in The Bill or other crime stories: instead, Tim’s own personal experiences really shine through. Tom’s ambitious nature rubs some of his colleagues up the wrong way, and it’s interesting to see how these difficult interactions all intertwine as the story goes on. The same goes for Charley and the tempestuous relationship she has with her father, having lost her mother and, more recently, her friend, both in suspicious circumstances.

There is a real darkness to Flashes that the author manages to draw the reader into. Whether it’s being near the train tracks or stuck with someone mysterious near her, Charley’s circumstances always come across crystal clear through the descriptive nature of the writing. It makes for a tense and edgy read which always keeps you guessing right to the end, and O’Rourke certainly had me fooled through much of the book. Final acts are often telegraphed, but not here, as Flashes manages to be as clever as it tries to be. It’s a relief that the quality of the storytelling throughout is matched by its resolution.

A concept like that at the core of Flashes could easily be a cheap device but it is used sparsely and only to ramp up the tension and add to the reader’s enjoyment. O’Rourke certainly tells a modern tale, dropping references to current technology and music that places Flashes in the here and now, and this can be a little jarring from overuse at times. However, beyond that is a solid effort that presents strong characters of both genders, and an addictive idea that works better than expected. Part crime thriller and part romance, Flashes is a gratifying story that will appeal to a whole spectrum of readers.

Flashes is now available from Chicken House in paperback and three-part eBook.

The paperback also contains a bonus story with Tom and Kiera Hudson, the main character from O’Rourke’s other book series. 

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