The Cyclist is the latest novel by college instructor, noir writer, and bicycling enthusiast Anthony Neil Smith. I’m happy to announce that Dr. Smith has lost none of the magic. This novel is a page-turner and will keep you up until the last page. It features his adopted homeland of Minnesota and the rough hills of Scotland. And the tension kept me enthralled to the final word of this book.
“What would you do to meet the girl of your dreams?” is the underlying topic of The Cyclist.
Judd has a boring job in finance in Minnesota. He was kicked out of basic training for the Navy Seals, an elite special force branch of the US military. He was booted when, during a live-fire exercise, he accidentally shot his drill instructor, Burt “The Cleaver” Chapman. But Judd’s luck is improving. Through his job, he’s met a cute Scottish woman named Cat over the internet. Judd performs a lot of bank transactions. He and Scottish Cat develop a friendship.
Judd’s immediate problem is still his former drill instructor, The Cleaver. When Judd accidentally shot him, Cleaver became unable to continue in his military role. After years of secret suicide missions all over the world, Cleaver must face civilian life. But the old wardog can’t adjust. He travels to Judd’s hometown. The Cleaver takes an apartment in a cheap rental unit just so he can study and harass the younger man. The Cleaver can’t understand how someone with little Seal potential managed to pop him when so many terrorists couldn’t manage the deed.
Judd’s other passion is bicycling. He loves to race across the many trails in his midwestern state and work-off the frustration of his job. One day, he’s out on the riding trails and hits a pothole. He survives intact, but the event forces him to make some decisions, ones he’s avoided for a long time. Over the next few days, Judd packs up his bike for international travel, cleans out his bank account, takes a few weeks of vacation, and leaves his apartment keys with the ever-drunk Cleaver.
Judd will travel to Scotland and meet the wonderful lass he’s in love with.
Judd exits the plane in Scotland and Cat’s there to greet him. It’s a drunken mad affair and Cat seems to be in smitten with him too. But some things don’t add up. Cat, who claimed to be a fellow cycling enthusiast, doesn’t know a lot about bicycles. When they leave the big town and travel into the smaller ones, people act strange around them. People in the local pubs point at Cat and whisper. Sometimes they’ve rude.
Worse, someone is following them. Someone who has specific plans for Judd.
This is more of a thriller, not the usual crime novel I’ve grown to expect from Smith. It’s still full of intense character studies. He doesn’t hold back on the violence either. The plot is tight.
The one character that pops out from the book is The Cleaver. He possesses a strict code of conduct and a firm view of the world into the good or bad. This is not something unusual given his military background. The writer didn’t portray him as a buffoon or broken man, but someone who lives by a code that works. The day it fails is the day The Cleaver finds himself out of the military life he’s loved so much. But he’ll use every bit of that code to help the one man who caused him doubt. Herein lies the major source of tension in the novel.
The plot is so tight that it’s hard to say much about it without giving away key points. I will say there is another character in this novel that scared the crap out of me. Smith explores the inside of a very damaged brain and lays it out on the surgeon’s table to examine.
I give this novel a strong recommendation. It’s an excellent example of how to keep the tension up inside a novel.