I Am the Messenger is Markus Zusak’s fourth book (though his first three are hard to find in America). It chronicles the story of Ed Kennedy, a taxi driver in a small town in Australia. He is pretty much a nobody, and has virtually no goals for his life. But when an incompetent criminal robs a bank while Ed is there, he impulsively stops the man. After that, he’s thrust into the public spotlight, and a mysterious message arrives on his doorstep: an ace of clubs with three addresses on it. Ed has been tasked by an unknown person to somehow help those at each address, to give them some sort of message. So he finds himself an inadvertent hero, and gets a lesson or two about humanity.
Ed is a pretty good protagonist. He’s flawed and, to be honest, not a particularly heroic person. However, his character failings and quirks make him feel human, more than many main characters. The other characters have a decent amount of depth and personality. My favorite character was actually the Doorman, Ed’s dog, a smelly old creature who loves coffee and giving sassy looks.
The plot is interesting; the reader is swept along with Ed, wondering as much as he is who the messages are for and what they will be. Each time Ed thinks events are going one way, they are inevitably steered in another. Having him constantly guessing allows for the audience to do the same, which I enjoyed.
There is one thing I wasn’t a fan of—Ed’s relationship with Audrey. They’ve been friends for years, and he is, predictably, in love with her. Every time she appears, he notices something about her physical appearance. Yes, they connect platonically, but Ed approaches “Nice Guy™” territory on occasion. He talks about how no one will care about her as much as he does, and reflects on how her current boyfriend doesn’t deserve her. On the other hand, he is able to recognize she has legitimate trauma in her past that makes it hard for her to open up emotionally, and he never pressures her to enter into a relationship with him. So he could be a lot worse. However, the entire situation, as well as the fact that there are significantly more males than females in Zusak’s books makes me wonder if Liesel and Rosa in The Book Thief were outliers in his repertoire of characters.
That said, the writing overall is excellent. Here, Zusak hasn’t quite reached the zenith of his poetic, vivid prose (which, when this was written, was still to come in Book Thief, which I’m convinced he will never top), but he does create some memorable scenes and beautiful lines. Several parts are particularly moving, such as Ed’s interactions with Milla and the Tatupu family.
The ending of this book is surprising—without spoilers, I’ll say that I was unable to predict who sends Ed the playing cards. That revelation, as well as what occurs in the last few pages, makes for an excellent discussion topic. This is a clever, perhaps unique, way to conclude the story. (Man, that was vague. But if you’ve read this book, you know what I’m talking about.)
In the end, I Am the Messenger is an entertaining story with an intriguing plot, an eclectic cast of quite believable characters, and some poignant moments. Though this book is not without flaws, it is an engrossing observation that life is full of darkness and hardship—but is also a celebration of small acts of compassion that might not mean much on the surface but which have profound effects nonetheless.
Overall rating: 8/10
If you’re interested, here is my gushy review of The Book Thief.