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Power in the Blood Book Review - Lunchtime Lit With Mel Carriere

Reviewer Mel Carriere takes his books where he can get them, from Nobel Prize winners to the dusty backlist bins of burrowed authors.

Power In The Blood gets Mel Carriere's stamp of approval for its author, Greg Matthews, but comes up postage due for the novel itself.

Power In The Blood gets Mel Carriere's stamp of approval for its author, Greg Matthews, but comes up postage due for the novel itself.

Mealtime Manna From Heaven?

Lunchtime Lit book ideas arrive in mysterious ways, sometimes as manna from heaven. My last reviewed book, Cloudsplitter, practically assaulted me from a Goodwill shelf the moment I walked in. Other books are read on the recommendations of literary-minded associates. Still more work their way into my lunchbox after being mentioned in the liner notes of authors who did not write them. This is rare - most famous authors are too egotistical to give props to their rivals, but there are a few secure in their own skins, or perhaps wealthy enough, that they sing the praises of books they did not scribble themselves.

Horror-master Stephen King is one of these. Though he enjoys a near monopoly on supernatural fiction, he likes to read outside the box then comment about books in the introductions to his short story collections. In this way King introduced me to Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, an epic novel of the West that remains in the top five of my personal favorites. Many of you have seen the miniseries, but the television adaptation doesn't have the same texture and flavor as McMurtry's deceptively utilitarian, but beautiful prose.

Of course, Larry McMurtry is an accomplished writer in his own right, one who did not need Stephen King to discover him. But the master of the macabre is not elitist in selecting his literary fare. He hangs out with upscale Pulitzer Prize winners like McMurtry, but he will also slum around in the bargain paperback pile.

Sometimes delectable nuggets are found in these discard bins of the unheralded, such as the unsung Heart Of The Country, which King gave a shout to in the introduction of Nightmares and Dreamscapes. I am one of those oddballs who reads such introductions, and based on King picking a winner with Lonesome Dove, I gave Heart of the Country a whirl too.

That was several years ago, and I was not disappointed. Heart Of The Country was a one of a kind literary marvel that also made my top five. The King came through again.

Skip to 2018, when I was shopping around for a book to add to my postal lunchtime reading list. I remembered Heart of the Country, and wondered if its author Greg Matthews had penned anything else. He turned out to have written several equally obscure books, obscure at least from the standpoint of their internet presence. Though his novels are available on Amazon, there is next to nothing online about Greg Matthews or his work. I did not pick Power In The Blood on the basis of available reviews, which are few if any, but solely because it topped the Amazon results. This work did not match the literary power of Heart of the Country, but it was still a captivating page turner, up until its silly ending. At that point it became something like a Chinese buffet - you gorge like Ghandi after a hunger strike, then regret it afterward.

But just like that Chinese food I got hungry again ten minutes later, and started chewing on an enigma that I could not digest. Who is Greg Matthews, and why does he lead such a reclusive online existence? Was Power In The Blood his attempt to steer away from literature into more marketable endeavors? Then there is the broader question of whether an author can live a hermetic existence and still make a living as a wordsmith? I won't be able to provide you with definitive answers to any of these questions, because Stephen King stamp of approval or not, Greg Matthews remains an Internet ghost. Does he prefer it that way? Another question I can't answer.

Perhaps a horror story anthology is an unlikely place to find praise for an author of Western literature, but Stephen King gives Greg Matthews his props here.

Perhaps a horror story anthology is an unlikely place to find praise for an author of Western literature, but Stephen King gives Greg Matthews his props here.

Lunchtime Lit Rules

Although reviewer slash mailman Mel Carriere never fails to pack a sandwich or two for his 30 minute Postal lunch break, he sometimes relies on the largesse of the heavens, or a begging bowl, to supply him with the reading fare that is served up either on wheat or white, depending on his mood. No matter who is slinging the literary hash at any given time, the rule remains that all Lunchtime Lit books are read only on Mel's 30 minute lunch break.

Lunchtime Lit Year to Date Recap * **

BookPagesWord CountDate StartedDate FInishedLunchtimes Consumed

Gormenghast

409

181,690

6/26/2018

8/6/2018

29

Moby Dick

643

206,050

8/18/2018

10/23/2018

45

Jude the Obscure

397

149,670

10/27/2018

12/10/2018

28

Titus Alone

224

95,120

12/11/2018

1/5/2019

18

Cloudsplitter

768

260,742

1/7/2019

3/27/2019

49

Power in the Blood

903

330,930

3/28/2019

6/28/2019

57

**Word counts are estimated by hand-counting a statistically significant 23 pages, then extrapolating this average page count across the entire book. When the book is available on a word count website, I rely on that total.

*Twenty other titles, with a total estimated word count of 4,472,373 and 647 lunchtimes consumed, have been reviewed under the guidelines of this series.

Who Is Greg Matthews? - Can a Writer Be Reticent?

An Internet search for Greg Matthews, author of Power in the Blood, delivers mystifying results. He is as elusive as the Loch Ness monster, with no credible sightings. A Wikipedia page for this man does not exist, rather peculiar for an author who has been published by Harper Collins, not exactly a Ma and Pop print shop. Being that there are currently 5,982,000 articles on the English version of the free encyclopedia, it is hard to believe there are six million subjects more noteworthy than Mr. Matthews. Unless...he just doesn't want to be there. Can individuals profiled on Wikipedia have their articles deleted if they choose? Again I don't know the answer. Why wouldn't he want to be on Wikipedia - I would kill for an article on little old me. Wikipedia is a modern day Who's Who - ask your grandmother what that means.

I would also commit murder to be an honest to goodness investigative reporter, but it's really hard to do that on a budget. Therefore, I can only rely on the investigations of my stubby google searching fingers. Although I am proud of the work these creaky old digits do, the results they produced on the mystery of Greg Matthews mined more questions than answers. The answers remain buried deep beneath the Glory Hole gold fields of Power in the Blood.

When you search for "Greg Matthews novelist" on your favorite search engine, as opposed to "Greg Matthews Australian cricketer," or "Greg Matthews author of Wild Awakening," or "Greg Mathews baseball pitcher with a lifetime record of 28-33," it doesn't bring up a lot of objective facts and details for a credible biography. Instead you get Amazon links and bare book review sites, such as Goodreads and Biblio.com. Therefore, because there is nothing else to go on, I am going to abandon journalistic integrity and sneak down the George Noorey after dark trail, into the realm of conspiracy theory.

The top link in a Google search for "Greg Matthews, novelist", takes you to a site called Open Road Media, established in 2009 with the goal of "bringing backlist books to life" in ebook editions. Being the ebook publisher of three of Matthews books, Open Road might presumably know a thing or two about him. Interestingly, in their very sparse blurb on this author, the company's website claims that Matthews also writes under the nom de plume Torsten Krol, author of the FOREVERMAN series and other works of the science fiction genre. To add fuel to the conspiracy fire, Torsten Krol does not make personal appearances either, and is from Australia, Matthew's country of origin.

Open Road is the only locale I found that propagates the Greg Matthews/Torsten Krol dual identity theory. Other sites speculate upon other possibilities for Krol's superhero alter-ego, proposing Joe King and you guessed it, Stephen King. Could the reason Stephen King gives Greg Matthews a shout is because the two are, in fact, one and the same? Perhaps Greg Matthews is Stephen King's western fiction alter ego, and Torsten Krol is the alter ego of an alter ego.

The only things we know for sure about Greg Matthews are listed in the concise "about the author" paragraph inside the back cover of Power in the Blood. He was born in Australia and now lives in Loveland, Colorado. He describes himself as "a guy in a room, writing, writing." No kidding.

Greg Matthews could be bringing in boatloads of money through his work, he could be a pauper digging dinner out of dumpsters, he could be earning just enough for a decent living. We don't know because this author jealously guards his privacy, a condition that begs a question for all wannabe wordsmiths. Can a writer be reticent and still make a go of it?

 I was unaware of such an entity as an Orphan Train until I picked up Power in the Blood. As such, I came away smarter than when I started, one of my criteria for what makes a decent book.

I was unaware of such an entity as an Orphan Train until I picked up Power in the Blood. As such, I came away smarter than when I started, one of my criteria for what makes a decent book.

Derailing the Orphan Train

I won't provide you with anything as boring as a plot synopsis on Lunchtime Lit. What is plot anyway, except a recycled, rusty tent frame for authors to cover with fancy words? Joseph Campbell assures us that mankind has recycled the same plots over and over again. So although you don't need to know the plot, perhaps my impressions on the story line of Power in the Blood might make you want to buy it, or much better yet for you, to buy Heart of The Country, so we can get Greg Matthews off the dole and back where he belongs, in a room writing, writing.

The story starts with a fascinating journey aboard the Orphan Train, after a young girl and her two brothers in Schenectady, New York, wake up one morning to find their mother dead. Having been abandoned by their father early in life, and with no relatives on the scene to help, the three children are shipped off on The Orphan Train, a charity operating between 1854 and 1929 that transported abandoned children in Eastern Cities to the Midwest, where they were mostly needed as farm hands.

I was unaware of such an entity as an Orphan Train until I picked up Power in the Blood. As such, I came away smarter than when I started, one of my criteria for what makes a good read. Unfortunately, after they are separated into different families, the lives of our three principle characters do not turn out to be very good. Through a series of increasingly tumultuous upheavals they work their way farther and farther west until, through the power of the blood drawing them back together by invisible threads, they experience a tragically brief reunification.

I guess we can label Power in the Blood Zane Grey meets Stephen King, if we want to. Connected to the three children by blood is a young girl with Carrie/Firestarter psychic powers, used to either make people rich or kill them. To me, this supernatural element was superfluous to the success of the story. If it sounds dopey, it's because it is. Was Mr. Matthews throwing a bone to Stephen King for his glowing review in Nightmares and Dreamscapes, trying his hand at the horror genre in deference to his celebrity advocate? Another question we will probably never answer with satisfaction.

Despite the occasional eye rolls caused by a telepathic girl throwing grown men, gold statues and freight trains around like leaves in the breeze, the pages flip by without a yawn and barely a blink until we arrive at page 903, where we find out Greg Matthews has played a cruel joke on us. With this empty ending, the author seems to be punishing his readers for enjoying his tale and experiencing empathy for his characters. We feel like when our Mom took the car keys away after our first date because we had too good a time. The finale is a girl getting frisky in a dark movie theater, then slapping you for stealing a harmless goodnight kiss on the front porch.

Greg Matthews should be sandwiched here between L and M in your local bookstore but alas, he is not.

Greg Matthews should be sandwiched here between L and M in your local bookstore but alas, he is not.

Geez Greg, wtf?

We close here with another point of pure speculation on my part, a sheer guess about the motivations of an author who apparently has never been interviewed, doesn't do book tours, and has no social media presence that might provide clues to nagging mysteries surrounding him. Could the slap-in-the-face ending of Power in the Blood be Matthew's petulant response to being forced to write a mere mainstream novel of the Old West, as opposed to the poetic rendering of the trans-Mississippi landscape we were treated to in Heart of the Country? In that earlier work, the author made us feel the breath of the unimpeded wind upon the plains, he caused us to look up to an unbroken sky and marvel at the uncountable stars of the firmament.

The prose of Power in the Blood is much more mundane - competent, functional, readable, but lacking the artist's brush that makes us feel in multiple dimensions with each of our senses, rather than only see a one dimensional portrait on a flat canvas. As I started to read this book last March 27th, I was sure Power in the Blood predated Heart of the Country, that the author had honed his skills in between the two books, but the reverse is actually true. Heart of the Country came out in 1986, Power in the Blood in 1992. This leads to even more unanswerable questions. Did Harper Collins deliver Matthews an ultimatum to dumb it down for mass consumption? Give us a bestseller, Greg! Or did this storyteller suppress his inner artiste of his own accord? In any case, maybe the horrible ending is Matthew's big f you to his downgraded bovine, cud-chewing readership - I made you care about four strong characters over the course of 899 pages, now here on page 900 you will wonder why they ever even existed.

I am a fan of unconventional endings. I don't require a they all lived happily ever after, but geez Greg, wtf?

Comments

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on April 16, 2020:

Thank you ElRob. I fell in love with Heart of the Country, but the more I think about it in retrospect, the sillier Power in the Blood becomes. I think the shot in the arm Stephen King's glowing praise gave him didn't go very far, he still remains pretty much in obscurity, which is too bad.

Your comment has made me want to try Wisdom of Stones. Something by Torsten Krol might be on the list for the future.

I really appreciate your contribution to the discussion. I think you are the first one here who has actually read Greg Matthews.

ElRobHubbard from KS on April 15, 2020:

Mel,

Came across your review - I became a Greg Matthews fan ever since coming across his first novel, THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, then HEART OF THE COUNTRY. Your review of POWER IN THE BLOOD is more than fair - it's a good read, but HofC is a better story.

His other books are hard to find, but worth the effort. With the large scaled Western books, it seems his publisher was attempting to align him more to attract the readership of Larry McMurtry, and Matthews' other novels also seem to want to channel McMurty, albeit his more contemporary work in Americana. ONE TRUE THING, LITTLE RED ROOSTER and THE GOLD FLAKE HYDRANT, are set in small town America and the desperate lives of the people there. THE WISDOM OF STONES, set in 1930's Australia, is more along the scale of HEART OF THE COUNTRY, a 'sort-of' Western. He did try to branch out with FAR FROM HEAVEN and COME TO DUST, two mystery novels set in 1930's Hollywood featuring the character of screenwriter/reluctant sleuth Keith Moody.

Beyond the late 90's it seemed that he had disappeared from view, at least in the U.S. - two novels, RED EARTH and CIRCLE IN THE SKY were published in Australia and are extremely hard to get for a reasonable price. There are also two other books by 'Greg Mathews' published in the last 5 years, ROSES and DESIRES OF MY FATHER, but haven't verified if it's "Greg Matthews" of the above mentioned works.

You mention the author Torsten Krol, whose works, CALLISTO, THE DOLPHIN PEOPLE and THE SECRET BOOK OF SACRED THINGS are very good (haven't read the FOREVERMAN series as of yet) - and judging from available evidence, I think Krol is indeed a pen name for Matthews; Krol resides in Australia, and has obviously spent a substantial amount of time living in the U.S, judging from CALLISTO (Matthews did live in CO and in KS), and the writing styles similarities match up as well.

Matthews is the kind of author whose books I'd gift to people consistently, if only they were a lot easier to find. Always good to come across any review of his work.

Ann Carr from SW England on January 10, 2020:

Indeed!

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on January 09, 2020:

Ann, we used to use a word called eccentric, and it was considered a good kind of weird. You know, like Salvador Dali weird. Nowadays weird is just weird. Fortunately, there are still a few people of the good weird variety who make life interesting.

Ann Carr from SW England on January 09, 2020:

Ok. Yes weird is often good!

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on January 09, 2020:

Happy New Year to you too Ann. I am so glad you stopped by to read. I will repeat, if you want to read something by Greg Matthews try Heart of the Country. That is a beautiful book, superbly written. A little weird, yes, not the kind of western John Wayne would star in, but sometimes weird is good.

Ann Carr from SW England on January 09, 2020:

Well you've certainly peeked my curiosity. It feels like it's worth reading but silly endings annoy me too!

The author's character is also intriguing though there have been other authors reticent to face their public. These days that's quite a feat though!

Thanks for the entertaining read, Mel. I'll look out for this one.

Happy new year!

Ann

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on January 02, 2020:

I hope the same for you, Linda. I have lots of big writing plans for 2020, but will there be time for all, or any of them? I appreciate you dropping in.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on January 02, 2020:

Thank you Dreamer Meg. Make sure you read Heart of the Country, not Power in the Blood. The more I think about it, Power in the Blood was pretty silly.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 01, 2020:

I love the way in which you've created such an interesting article about a very secretive writer. I hope 2020 is a great year for you, Mel.

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on January 01, 2020:

Thank you for clarifying that. I used to love westerns but they didn't have to follow a formula. I feel more confident about maybe trying that book now.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on January 01, 2020:

Thank you Dreamer Meg. Yes there are a lot of google listings on Heart of The Country, but none that really give any concrete biographical facts about the author. You would have noted the lack of a Wikipedia article, for instance. I would like to write one myself, but I fear Greg Matthews would eliminate it. I would guess that the publisher created the back links, probably because the book isn't exactly flying off the shelves.

Yes, Heart of the Country was a very unconventional western, which is why I enjoyed it so much. But I wouldn't call it surrealistic, like that review did, which I read. I think the negative reviews are based on an archetype of a Western Novel that fans of the genre expect a book to follow. Apparently Stephen King got it, and so did I.

I really appreciate you spending enough time with my little book review here to fact check me. Your contributions are always welcome. I hope you had a wonderful New Year.

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on January 01, 2020:

I did a google search on the author's name and Heart Of The Country. There are a LOT of google listings. Either the author or their publisher went out and got a great many backlinks to this book. There was even one in an academic article from the University of Nebraska in 1987 but the citation included " too surrealistic for my conventional tastes. " and commented that they thought the book tried to show "the American dream as a nightmare". It almost seems that THAT author was reading a different book!

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on January 01, 2020:

Road Monkey I don't think Greg Matthews topped any best seller lists in any of his incarnations, despite King's recommendations. It would be interesting to know more about him, but there is just nothing available. I was even afraid to post his picture from the back cover here, for fear of getting in trouble for violating his privacy. Thanks for dropping in, Happy New Year!

RoadMonkey on January 01, 2020:

Well, lots of questions here. I might be inclined to the early writings of a well-known author, or else son / daughter of same. Of course being mentioned by a well-known author is going to get you a few sales but as many as that for someone hidden in the shadows?

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on January 01, 2020:

Thank you Mills. I have heard a lot about Pynchon, good and bad, which is the mark of a powerful author, because the greats never please everyone. Eventually I am going to sample him here on LL. Happy new year, I appreciate you dropping in!

Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on December 31, 2019:

The author that comes closest to Matthews in terms of anonymity that comes to my mind is Thomas Pynchon. He guards his privacy, but he has greater name recognition than Matthews. Maybe he just doesn't want anyone tracking him down and asking him about the ending of Power In The Blood.

Happy New Year.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on December 31, 2019:

Make that your new years resolution, Bill. It's a lot easier than say, quitting smoking or losing 20 pounds, and a lot more fun if you get the right read. Happy New Year to you too.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 31, 2019:

Never hear of him or the book. Thanks for the introduction. I still am not reading, but I am saving your recommendations for the day I begin again.

Happy New Year my friend!

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on December 30, 2019:

Thank you Devika I try to filter out the good and the bad for my readers. I really appreciate you dropping in.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on December 30, 2019:

Thank you Pamela. It really was a very long drive just to find out nobody was home on the other end. I really appreciate you reading my review. Since you seem to be a fan of long books on a Western theme you really should try Heart of the Country, not this one.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on December 30, 2019:

Hi Mel I have not heard of this writer You told me everything I needed to know and appreciate your review.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 30, 2019:

It is really strange that there is so little informaiton about Matthews. This is a fairly long book to have such an empty ending. I think that would annoy me. I appreciate your information about this mysterious author and this book. I read Lonesome Dove a very long time ago and really liked it too.

Happy New Year Mel!