Thirty Steps to Heaven
Rarely does a new author demonstrate such an intricate and perceptive understanding of the human condition as does Don Williams in this stunning debut novel. The setting is South Africa, and Alanís childhood is set against the backdrop of World War Two, a time of tremendous uncertainty and, in Alanís case, great adventure. Alanís early years are eventful to the extreme, but coming to terms with the world around him presents him with a series of moral and philosophical dilemmas, which are accentuated by an aspect of his character that remains touchingly innocent.
Through Alanís eyes, we see a world that is very much changed by the war, but unlike many other novels set in troubled times, Williams does not allow the backdrop to drive his story. Rather, through the actions and behavior of his primary characters, he paints a vista that is reconciled to their attitudes and beliefs. In this respect, Thirty Steps is a totally character-driven story. Such an approach, however, can only succeed if the characters are believable, elegantly depicted and operate within clearly defined sets of behavioral parameters. In this case, Williams succeeds on every count.
Thirty Steps is a wonderfully structured story and Williams effortlessly navigates the various plot strands that hold it together (flashback/present/ future) without Ė as in the case of many authors - losing the reader in a wasted attempt to prove his cleverness. He demonstrates a tremendous instinct for pace, which sits well with concise, atmospheric and vivid descriptions of the world in which his story is set. The story is not without its fair share of eye-widening twists either, and Williams has a knack of springing unexpected revelations on the reader when one least expects it. It is a sad feature of much modern literature that such revelations are often hurled at the reader with the subtlety of a flying sledgehammer. Williams adeptly avoids this trap, gently teasing the reader and guiding us through the various twists and turns of Osborneís life, always maintaining a consistent balance in his dialogue and narrative. This approach makes any plot development that much easier to swallow, and in this respect, many well-known authors could learn a lesson or two from Williams.
For a drama such as Thirty Steps, it is critical that the protagonist is accessible, believable, likable and original enough to hold the readerís interest. Alan Osborne meets all of these criteria. Williams depicts him with clarity and gracefully guides the reader through his formative years. We watch his character evolve and develop, often without even realizing exactly what we are witnessing. This has the effect of creating a close bond between reader and protagonist, which is probably what makes Thirty Steps such a gripping read.
If there were a checklist for what a debut author should hope to achieve, it would show that every box has been ticked for Don Williams. This is a writer of awesome talent, sensitivity and a natural instinct for great storytelling.
In terms of narrative style and structure, Thirty Steps To Heaven is very much in the mold of a traditional classic. But as a work of modern literature, it stands up on its own merits. In conclusion, it deserves an unequivocal thumbs up.
The Devil and Manuel de Salazar
We thought that Don Williams's debut novel, Thirty Steps To Heaven was going to be a tough act to follow, but with 'Devil', he has truly surpassed himself. Set in the Finnish capital Helsinki, this is the story of a Peruvian-born British professor and a Faustian arrangement with a mysterious representative of Satan. In lesser hands, this premise may have been clumsily handled, but Williams finds enough scope in the fundamental aspects of the plot to provide a thoroughly perceptive exploration of the human condition without sacrifice to either plot or pace.
De Salazar makes for a strongly depicted protagonist with very human weaknesses, and his inevitable capitulation to temptation is effectively accentuated by his sexually charged relationship with Ani. Williams tackles these core aspects of the story with skillful sensitivity.
Powerfully written, highly provocative and laced with extremely dark humor and sardonic wit, 'Devil' makes for an intriguing read. It is not, by any means, easy going, but is well worth sticking with, especially for an ingenious twist at the end that will leave you astounded.
All in all, another tour de force for Dr. Williams.