Thursday, September 21, 2017

ARTIFACTS, A FINE NOVEL WITH AN UNUSUAL PROTAGONIST



Artifacts                                 
By Mary Anna Evans
ISBN: 1590580567
A 2003 release from
Poisoned Pen Press

A thriller with an angst-ridden, interesting female protagonist.

The protagonist in this interesting novel, Faye Longchamp, is a mixed-race single female who can usually pass in either camp, yet is clearly uncomfortable in both. Moreover, neither camp is welcoming. Consequently, Faye Longchamp, bright, ambitious, wary of entanglements, generally goes her own way.

She’s technically a squatter, living in the ruins of her ancestral home on a small island on the western coast of Florida, an area known as the panhandle. Title to the land is in question and her situation constantly grows more desperate as she tries to find the money to pay taxes and living expenses. She’s a pothunter as well as an experienced and well-trained archeologist. These conflicting elements of her life, as well as her personality and background, even more than her racial composure, raise conflicts and a considerable amount of angst on an almost daily basis. Then she unearths a body and two young interns on the professional dig where she is working are murdered.

The deaths close down the site and leave Faye without a job and therefore without income. Clever plotting takes the reader inside Faye’s life, inside her family history and through a compelling history lesson. Archeology is far more than the simple antiseptic study of old bones and former generational trash. Author Evans infuses vibrant life to the history of the region and the nation through the circumstances of one family. Her illumination of the region and its special characteristics is excellent. The story lines move with vitality and good pace.

Although there are a few to many coincidences in the plot for some readers, the lively characters, unique and fascinating locale and the competent writing carries us through
to a satisfactory conclusion.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

KILLER CAREER A TENSION-FILLED MYSTERY NOVEL



Killer Career          
By Morgan Mandel
Choice One Publishing
ISBN: 978-09819916-0-3
August, 2009, Trade Paper,
296 pages.

This is one fine emotional story. Yes, if you read romantic mystery fiction extensively, you will likely have encountered elements of the story. It doesn’t matter. This is a well-put-together novel that carries the reader briskly to a smashing conclusion.

Julie McGuire is a hot Chicago attorney in a small partnership with Dade Donovan. Their talents and hard work have built a successful law firm. But Julie harbors a secret life-long dream—to be a writer, a published author. One day at a local mystery convention she meets a lusty, talented and tormented author named Tyler Jensen. He’s also more than passingly handsome in a sensual sort of way. Jensen offers Julie his help in the form of workshops and other ways to break in running on the fast track of publishing. How can she resist?

Tyler’s sponsorship is not without its price. Will Julie pay the price? Will she give up hard-won professional recognition to chase her other dream? Is Tyler Jensen everything he says he is—and maybe more?

And what about Julie’s partner, Dade? Can she, will she abandon this life-long partner? Questions arise almost as fast and in all manner of complexity paralleling the personal feelings that swirl around, rising and falling with the fortunes of the principals in this tense novel of romantic suspense.

The novel is not without its problems. Mandel is adept at steadily increasing the level of tension, but sometimes takes too much time to make her points. There are situations in which the pace should be raised with fewer words. Overall, tighter writing would benefit the reader. Conversely, there are places where I wished for fuller descriptions of place and circumstance. The emotions of the characters are all there, laid bare. A little more context might have enriched the experience.

In the end these problems are overcome by the story and the interest the author ultimately develops in readers for the central characters. I’ll read more from this author.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A FINE CRIME NOVEL STANDS A TEST OF TIME



BEARING SECRETS  
by Richard Barre
published by Berkley Prime Crime
a 1996 release
ISBN 0-425-16641-4

Bearing Secrets is a superb novel. One has a tendency to ladle on accolades and fulsome adjectives until the feeling that no book can be THAT good becomes a barrier to readers. Expectations can be raised too high. But this is a superb novel. This complex, rhythmic, multi-textured novel reaches out to the reader and inexorably draws one tighter and tighter.

It starts with hard-nosed PI Wil Hardesty and an anguished cry for help from a prickly, vulnerable, twenty-year-old hard-case named Holly Pfeiffer. Hardesty’s marriage is coming apart and he doesn’t know how to stop it. Mostly to distract himself from his personal troubles, he agrees to see Holly. But when he gets to her cabin near Lake Tahoe, he is repeatedly, rebuffed. This woman is a product of her radical father’s teachings. He was a veteran of Viet Nam, and then returned to Berkley where he used his considerable intelligence and skill to harass the authorities and teach military tactics to a violent splinter group of dissidents. Naturally, his activities draw the attention of the establishment.

When Holly’s father Max, dies in a fall from a high ledge in the mountains, Holly accuses the FBI of killing him. After all, the gospel according to Max had taught her that years earlier the FBI engineered her mother’s death via a car bomb. In spite of her attempts to rid herself of Hardesty, in Holly’s view just another establishment lackey, Hardesty begins a patient, earnest attempt to learn some truths. For a time, the only secrets he bares make Max look guilty. But of what? And then....

Read Bearing Secrets and you will be appalled, exhilarated, horrified and energized. This way lies death, explicit and terrible; here lies corruption and there is exploitation. You are quickly caught up in wheels within wheels. Barre builds tension and suspense cleanly and handles both with dexterity and believability. Fully-formed characters strive against insidious power, fail under the weight of crushing secrets, and strive again.

Yet author Barre does not dwell lovingly on the horror. This book is cleanly written, carefully plotted and very, very intense. It will require attention and careful reading, but Bearing Secrets will reward you in full measure.