Monday, July 25, 2016
THE BONES WILL SPEAK by Carrie Stuart Parks, Thomas Nelson publisher.
“Stop digging! Winston, NO!”
Gwen Marcey's Great Pyrenees dog raises his head; some kind of road kill lying at the side of the hole he is digging in her lawn. Seeing his mistress running toward him, he gleefully picks up the object and races off, enjoying his favorite game. Gwen finally coaxes the dog to bring it to her. The dirt and cow dung covering it had obscured its identity, but she now sees it is a human skull.
After reporting her dog's find to the County Sheriff's office, she sets out with Winston next morning to try and find where it had come from. A faint path leads to an old abandoned farmhouse a mile away. She discovers a creek bank where erosion has exposed several bones. As she examines the site, Winston emerges from the ramshackle farm house with a shoe with fresh blood on it. Gwen finds a girl's body inside the farmhouse. As she stoops to examine it, the body opens its eyes.
Another frantic call to the Sheriff's office, and the farmyard soon fills with police cars, ambulance, EMTs, and yellow crime tape. Author Carrie Stuart Parks, an FBI-trained forensic artist in real life, skillfully combines a police procedural account with an intense tale of terror in which the intended victims may be Gwen herself—and her fourteen-year-old daughter Aynslee.
Parks's crime novels present the reader with many threads to follow simultaneously, which of course can happen in real life, too. There is rivalry between the Ravalli County Sheriff, where the victim was found, and the Missoula, Montana city police, where the victim had been reported missing.
Gwen is out of a job when Missoula police assign their own forensic consultant to the case. Police officers in both jurisdictions are under suspicion. Gwen also has child custody issues with her ex-husband. Her own daughter exhibits rebellion. And the anonymous master villain appears invincible and vicious, but who is he?
Christian crime novelists have a narrow wire on which to balance. Their publishers reject overt sex scenes and profanity, and so to entice an audience of thrill seekers, authors often emphasize violence—they may have as many murders as they like. In addition to Ms. Parks' skills in hand-writing analysis, manner-of-speaking evaluation, face reconstruction, wild animal behavior, and even scent detection, another hidden theme caught me by surprise at the story's end.
I look forward to her third novel in the Gwen Marcey trilogy.
Carrie Stuart Parks is an Idaho author as well as a widely renowned instructor in forensic art. She and her husband Rick reside in Kootenai County, Idaho.
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
A MAN CALLED OVE a novel by Fredrik Backman; Washington Square Press, New York
Most of us know a man like Ove. He lives alone, down in the next block. Kind of peculiar, Stubborn. Opinionated. Usually angry about something or someone that can't get anything right.
We first meet Ove at age 59 in a computer shop. No, he doesn't want an i-pad, nor a laptop, he wants a COMPUTER! Within minutes he has walked out of the shop in disgust. Young salesmen nowadays talk such gibberish.
The new neighbors—a pregnant foreign woman shouting at her blond husband, who is amiably backing a U-Haul trailer in between the two houses after flattening Ove's mailbox.
“You can't drive a car in here!” Ove shouts at the woman.
She roars back, “I'm not the one driving it, am I?”
Thus begins a new relationship in the neighborhood. A new pair of idiots, Ove fumes.
Author Backman introduces Ove little by little, skipping back and forth in time at first to let the reader not only see him but understand him, and even like him. Ove is handy with tools, closemouthed with his thoughts, honest, steady in his job at the railroad, and considers the world to be governed by idiots. The one bright spot in his gray world is the girl he met on the train one day.
Ove and Sonja could not be a more opposite pair. He ,“a grumpy old man since elementary school” trusts only his tools, his car and mathematics. Sonja, a beautiful, lively girl studying to be a school teacher, could choose a husband from any of a dozen suitors. She loves books, loves to laugh, loves her widowed father. Why then choose Ove? As Sonja herself once explained it, no other boy had gone the wrong way on the train for hours every day just because he liked sitting next to her while she spoke. They spent nearly forty years of happiness together, he as a house builder, she teaching disabled teenagers to enjoy Shakespeare, until she dies of cancer.
Without Sonja, Ove has lost all the color she had brought into his life. He hasn't died, but he has stopped living. Surrounded by “idiot neighbors”, he sinks into loneliness, only taking action when some bigger idiot disturbs the orderliness of his neighborhood. Annoyingly, his neighbors seem attracted to him. The pregnant Iranian woman, Parvanah, and her bumbling husband and boisterous small daughters are always in his face. A stray cat won't let him alone. An officious welfare officer insists Ove's old friend two doors down is no longer competent to live at home.
Gradually the neighbors' aggressive kindnesses start to turn Ove's life around in spite of himself, creating perceptive and often hilarious results.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
TROUBLE ON LOOKOUT PASS, by Bryan R. Lee; Heaven Bound Publishing
Scene: A Thanksgiving eve snowstorm in North Idaho's mountains. Westbound mixed Train #79 on the branch line between Missoula, Montana and Wallace, Idaho carries three passenger cars this trip to accommodate holiday traffic, and an unusually heavy load of forty freight cars.
Trainmaster Nelson Kohlesk, in Wallace on his monthly inspection visit, finds the small railroad yard in Wallace already full of freight cars that will not be shipped out until after the holiday weekend, with no room for the incoming cars on train 79. The only available space is a siding up on Lookout Pass, eleven miles of steep incline, with train 79 already on its way toward them. There is only one available engineer in Wallace, and he refuses to give up his holiday time, knowing the labor union will never allow Kohlesk to fire him.
Kohlesk, himself a qualified Diesel engineer, has Wallace stationmaster Mike Jones call out enough workers to make up the minimum crewmen of three besides himself to take “Extra Train 212” eastward. He radios oncoming train 79, which will reach Lookout Pass first, to pull into the siding to allow him to go by on the single-track mainline.
Putting an extra train in the path of oncoming scheduled traffic is no light matter. The hundred passengers on Train 79 will complain about their delayed arrival in Wallace. Even though cars are already assembled on one track in the rail yard, two engines will need to be hooked up on one end and a caboose on the other (this is in the 1980s); there are rail switches to open and close, air-brakes to connect up and test, and a final inspection car-by-car before setting out, and the snow storm and cold wind are worsening. The difference in a delay of 45 minutes and 30 minutes can have a bad effect on a man's work record.
Author Brian R. Lee does an admirable job of bringing all these factors into the reader's attention while moving his story along.
Extra Train 212 out of Wallace reaches Lookout Pass only to find the rail siding empty. Attempts to contact Train 79 by radio are met by silence. Wallace and Missoula stations can communicate with each other, but no one knows the whereabouts of 79 and its passengers. The deepening snow has caused a truck to skid and jack-knife across both lanes, blocking road access to the Pass. Sending a truck equipped with rail wheels—without knowing the status of the westbound train, and with no turn-around point—is not an option.
A solution appears from an unexpected direction (no, not helicopters or snow mobiles) but the author introduces a new peril to 79's passengers, to keep the reader on edge until the last chapter. A good read.
Brian R. Lee is a retired trainman and dispatcher, who also has experience as editor of a city newspaper. He and his wife Grace reside in Osburn, Idaho.