Review of RESOLVE, A Novel by J.J. Hensley

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If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may recall I am aspiring to be an author of an actual physical book one day (sooner, rather than later would be nice). Truth be told, I already consider myself a writer both because of this blog and my newest writing adventure to promote blood clot education and awareness. As you may also know, I have done a few book reviews on this blog and they are by far my favorite thing to review, especially when written by a first-time author. I recently read Resolve by J.J. Hensely and was able to review it.

Resolve is a murder-mystery novel written by J.J. Hensley, and while I love a good mystery, I was originally interested in reading this book because it takes place at the Pittsburgh Marathon – the race I ran as my first marathon in 2011. What I found once I started reading was that the plot and mystery of the story itself were simply intriguing. I could not put the book down from the first sentence, which remains my favorite.

Here is a short synopsis of Resolve from where you can also order your own copy-

In the Pittsburgh Marathon, 18,000 people from all over the world will participate. Some 9,500 will run a half marathon, while 4,500 participants will attempt the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 will quit before it’s over. More than 100 will be injured and require medical treatment. And one man is going to be murdered. When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows who is going to die — for the simple reason that he’s going to kill him.

Keller, a university professor of criminology at Three Rivers University and a former police officer, is an expert in criminal behavior and victimology. However, when one of his female students is murdered and his graduate assistant attempts to kill him, Keller finds himself swinging frantically back and forth between being a suspect and a victim. When the police assign a motive to the crimes that Keller knows cannot be true, he begins to ask questions that somebody out there does not want answered.

In the course of 26.2 miles, Keller recounts how he found himself encircled by a series of killings that have shocked the city, while he pursues — literally — his prey: the man who is behind it all.

Hensley has a unique and hilarious sense of humor (not too far off from my own), plus the ability to tell a riveting tail that keeps the reader turning the pages until the very end. The characters are well-developed, relevant and the story really portrays both Hensley’s experience as a runner and his background in law enforcement, both of which I can relate to as well. This book is a must read for any runner desiring a non-traditional running book or any person looking for a suspenseful novel.

The book is arranged in a series of chapters named after the miles in a marathon – an idea that I have always thought to be brilliant when writing a running book. Each chapter begins with a recap of that particular mile in the Pittsburgh Marathon and is followed by a section of the murder-mystery story, which takes place at a local university. The miles and story are welded together seamlessly throughout the novel, and I soon forgot I was reading two different stories. Hensley is a seasoned storyteller – both on and off the race course.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview Mr. Hensley about his novel and here is what he had to say-

1.     Why did you choose to write about the Pittsburgh Marathon? Is it a significant race for you?

The concept of the novel evolved as I was training for the 2010 Pittsburgh Half-Marathon.  My wife and I had moved to the Pittsburgh area in 2006 and had fallen in love with the city.  As I devised the plot of Resolve, I realized I wanted the city to evolve into its own character and the marathon is a perfect vehicle for describing an urban setting.  Additionally, there are so many mysteries and thrillers out there that are set in New York, Los Angeles, or Washington, D.C.  I prefer books in atypical settings with protagonists who are less-than-perfect.

2.     How did you write the recaps of the miles on the race course? I know I ran Pittsburgh and I can barely remember what I saw on the course!

I have to admit I retraced the steps of the half-marathon and also drove the rest of the full marathon course while constructing the novel.  I also quickly discovered the importance of Google Street View because like many runners, during a race, a great deal of my attention was on not crashing into the person in front of me or missing a much needed water station.  It also helped that I’m local to the area, so I’m fairly familiar with the city.

3.     How difficult was it to write about the race as it was taking place and the murder-mystery together? Did you write them together or separately?

I wrote the book exactly as the reader experiences it.  I would construct a race scenes and then move on to the flashbacks in that same chapter.  I wanted to make sure that what was happening in the race (the struggles to climb a steep hill or the main character passing a particular landmark) was symbolic of what was occurring in the main plotline.  I have always felt that each distance race is its own story and every mile is a unique chapter.  Resolve was mapped out in way that I hope reflects that belief.

4.     Do you have a favorite character or one you are particularly proud of?

I really like the two police detectives in the book.  In many novels where the protagonist is not with a police department, law enforcement officers are portrayed as incompetent or corrupt.  Throughout my history in law enforcement, I discovered most officers and agents are extremely honorable and intelligent.  For me, it was important to paint a realistic picture when it came to the detectives and not fall into the trap of using a stereotype that I believe is overused.

Oh, and the main character’s dog, Sigmund!  I have to give him a shout out.

5.     What advice would you give to someone training for their first marathon? What helped you get to the finish line?

I’m admittedly not a great marathoner.  I’ve found I like the half-marathon distance much, much better, but the challenge of the full marathon is something special.  For whatever reason, I can’t seem to run more than 25 – 30 miles per week without getting injured, so for my first marathon I fast-walked every 3rd mile.  That strategy worked great for me as it mentally broke the race up into 2 mile chunks for me.  I would tell myself, “Just run two miles and then you’ll be walking.”  Doing things that way kept me healthy and made the process much easier for me.  By the time I only had 6 or 7 miles to go, I didn’t even bother walking anymore.

6.     How has running influenced your writing? Do you find you are more creative when or shortly after running?

I’m a big believer in the psychological benefits of running.  I think running helps my writing, but it also helps me in my “real” job, my family life, and my overall wellbeing.  If I go three or four days without working out, I’m a real pain in the… well, I can be difficult.

7.     In your opinion, how are running and writing alike?

The biggest similarity is the mental approach.  If you stare at a blank page on the computer monitor and say, “Okay.  Now, I’m going to write 100,000 words and get published.  This should only take a year or two.”  You’re screwed.  It’s the same with running a distance race.  If you stand at the starting line and start thinking about the 13.1 miles or the 26.2 miles you have ahead of you, it’s too overwhelming.  I have to take things one chapter – or one mile – at a time.

8.    How has writing made you a better runner?

I’ve never really thought about it, but it probably has because it forced me to sit at a desk and not over-train.  Of course, I also tend to drink scotch when I write… so maybe not.

9.     How has running made you a better writer?

 Again, I think the psychological benefits have helped greatly in that aspect.  Of course if I’m exhausted after a 10 mile run, my spelling is probably atrocious.

I would definitely recommend Resolve to anyone looking for a great read this summer, especially if you are a runner. Be sure to connect with Hensley on Facebook too where you can find updates and more about his book.

Thank you to J.J. Hensley for the opportunity to interview him!

What about you? Have you read Resolve? If so, what did you think? Will you be adding Resolve to your summer reading list?

Until the next mile marker,

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