WHEN CHARON IS YOUR FRIEND

51q8rf09vul-_sx331_bo1204203200_In the opening pages of Guarding Charon  we meet Grace Adams, who is one miserable girl. She’s trapped in a town and a family that have her future mapped out for her. A future she can’t bear to imagine.  She’s meant to marry the rich, brutal, and controlling Bruce Davis, whose family makes the rules for just about everyone and everything in town. Grace can’t keep a job because the Davis’s pressure employers to fire her, then spread the rumor that she quit. Bruce figures if he makes it impossible for Grace to become independent, she will eventually see him as her only alternative. Her family is enthusiastic about the prospect of their daughter marrying into money. Complicating factor: Bruce is a cop, so he’s got a badge and gun to back up his efforts. Thus, if Grace tries to leave town, he, and his father, the chief, can use police resources to track her down.

searchThus, Kate Marie Collins in a few pages has placed her protagonist in as ugly a situation as one can imagine, and we readers feel Grace’s despair. Then, Mr. Dixon drops in with news.

Dixon delivers the news that Grace has a long lost great aunt in Maine. Lost because she and her mother are estranged (to put it mildly), and her name has not been mentioned  in the house ever before. The aunt’s name is Amanda Cross. She is getting on in years and is ready to drop her legacy in a place where it will be treated properly. That somewhere is in the care of Grace Adams.

I’m not quite sure how Collins pulls it off, but she makes it completely believable that Grace would  step out the door of her childhood home and fly away with a total stranger on his word that great things await her. I guess it’s the fact we can’t conceive of anything but torture for her if she stays put.

I won’t go too far into the rest of the plot of Guarding Charon because I don’t want to mar the delicious experience of discovery that Collins has created when we land in Cavendish, Maine, meet Amanda, and see Grace build a new life with a new name to keep Bruce from following. It is enough, I think, to say that Amanda is a practicing Wiccan, and Grace becomes immersed in the religion as she gets acquainted with the estate she is to inherit. The paranormal elements of the novel are not here merely to shock or amaze, but are so grounded in the plot that we become as convinced of the appearance of Charon and the River Styx and other supernatural phenomena as Grace herself.

With Guarding Charon Collins has made an exciting and admirable addition to her canon of such triumphs as Daughter of Hauk and the rest of the Raven Chronicles. I know we can look forward to more that’s wonderful from her.

sitting up clapping

 

WELSH’S THE TRUTH LIES BURIED–GUEST POSTS

 

 

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What we have here are two reviews of a super new crime novel, The Truth Lies Buried,  by Lesley Welsh.

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LESLEY WELSH

You can read my own take on the book at http://bit.ly/29BEPxJ  Add these commentaries all up and you know there’ll be a big hole in your life if you don’t rush to it immediately.

 

 

REVIEW THE FIRST:

Reading this ten days ago I thought it was wonderful. Now that my better half has read it and we’ve done all the post-mortems and compared our clinical notes, we rank it as outstanding.

The style is nuanced, sly, wry, and fiercely intelligent, without a superfluous word. Cultural allusions and quotable quotes abound, with two already established in our domestic lexicon.

You know from the get-go that a beautiful terror is born, and the joyride just keeps getting better. It’s all down to feisty, complex Monica, whose heart must have been forged from some mercury-tungsten amalgam. Her love and lust lead to chaos, lunacy, muddle and mayhem, carving up turf, inheritances and physiognomies, with unassailable logic and inevitability.

To sum up: a riveting crime novel that twists, turns, wrings and wrenches its way through a mesmerising cast of sentient psychopaths, a hitlist of great characters – most gone far too soon – but, I guess, c’est la morte. But then again who ever said that death was fair? And why can’t I find an English word for noir?’

REVIEW THE SECOND:
‘Sam Riley, the protagonist, is an ex-hitwoman, ex-soldier, ex-bouncer, and guardian of the innocent. The antagonists are legion and not one-dimensionally evil or cartoonish. Lesley Welsh, the writer, is truly gifted: she is a storyteller who can set up a noir-ish scene, with noir-ish dialog, and noir-ish characters without any plodding digressions. This book has been the best surprise out of amazon’s kindle unlimited since I joined, and probably the best action/crime novel I’ve read this year. I’m looking forward to more from Lesley Welsh.’

LIES BURIED DON’T STAY BURIED

51ZAs4hLNqL._AC_US160_Lesley Welsh takes us through the title burial right away. Benny Cohen is the hastily-interred corpse. Sam(antha) Riley, in league with her old friend, Joe, as well as her employer (and lover), Monica Cohen, wife of the victim, are the perps. Sam, it turns out is also the protagonist and the narrator of most of the book’s key chapters. She’s a hard-ass lady with hard-ass background–soldier, bouncer, and more. But she’s got heart and tender side which makes her as vulnerable as it does admirable and likable while she goes about trying to clean up the mess she helps create in the opening pages.

Benny Cohen, we soon understand, was an ugly wretch of a gangster who deserved elimination. We also soon understand that he left behind a son who knows and understands far more about real cops and robbers and human nature than any eleven-year-old should.  We soon understand as well that Benny left behind a host of enemies  who will soon line up to fill the power vacuum he leaves behind. Not to mention the money.

Between all this and the cops she must fend off, Welsh has given Samantha Riley a Herculean stack of labors. And those are just the obvious ones. As the action unfolds, secrets, including a few of Sam’s own,  jump out of the graves, from behind the arrases, and from under the beds. Assaults and surprises leap at her–and the reader–from all directions. And the language, as with the best crime writers like Chandler, does as much as the plot to keep things moving and suspenseful. Witness Sam at the funeral of the man she’s just whacked:

I was uncomfortable with the tradition of mourners heaving a spadeful of dirt on the coffin. . . [H]aving already buried the guy once, I had no appetite for taking part in the rerun.

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LESLEY WELSH

Even in such a whirlwind of complications,  none of them seem contrived, as so often is the case with crime novelists who strain to keep the trivial seem significant just to pretend things are happening. Welsh’s events all grow out of the action quite naturally.  Just as important as the action–again, as in the best crime novels–the primary complications emerge from the character and morality issues of this much-more-than-a-thriller.

I can promise You won’t find a better read than The Truth Lies Buried for many a moon.

jumping out of chair

 

CUBA #6

 

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Today it was “adios, Havana. See you again at the airport in a couple of days. Multiple stops while making for our hotel at Varadero Beach.

Johandra kept feeding us info as we cruised along. She pointed out various bays and Marinas, explaining that Cubans who wanted to sail or putt-putt around couldn’t really do it without some kind of escort or special permission. She has a brother that emigrated to Belgium (not sure how he was permitted.), married a Belgian woman and has a baby. They wanted to take a Catamaran out for some snorkeling and swimming. The sister-in-law rented the Catamaran with her Belgian passport, then they all spoke French to one another going and coming so that no one would suspect they weren’t all Belgian all the time. Luckily, no one asked them for I.D. If they had been sniffed out as Cubans at all, they’d have been shorebound.

First rest stop was near Matanzas at an area favored by Canadians for fun in the sandy shore sun. Lots of Canadians apparently see Cuba as a Riviera-type area. We did indeed encounter such, sucking heavily on straws stuck in pineapples at 10:00 a.m. The guys we met from Edmonton said that the pineapples were basically “setups” and you had to add your own rum. Again, there was a little salsa band on hand. Everything very merry.

On the way from the rest stop, we saw oil wells, and Jocandra explained that Canada and China have been big investors in Cuban oil. Indeed we saw one refinery sporting joint Cuban-Canadian flags. No Chinese ones, but, hey, the Chinese seem to have taken over the transportation industry. Our tour bus and every other one we saw (many) were of the TuYong make. Of course, Cuban govt is heavily involved in all manner of their purchase and operation.

Matanzas means something like “killing fields” named for the vengeful actions of some 18th century Spaniards who pretty much wiped out the local indigenous population in repayment for the drowning of some Spanish soldiers. Now, though, it’s a pretty prosperous little resort town, and we stopped at Theater Velasco to take in a performance by a local dance company of some renown which focuses on Afro-Cuban and Santeria (sort of a Catholic/African peoples hybrid religion and culture).

Lots of energy and skill in this group, even over and above the one we’d seen in the Rosalia Cardenas modern dance group the day before.

Lunch was something completely original. Again, it was an organic farm where we were fed dishes produced right there. However, in addition, the proprietors are artists. They have promoted in particular the plastic arts and host a bi-yearly even where ceramic and other artists from wherever can come and exhibit their wares. In return, they leave one work behind, and the result is the most marvelous sculpture garden you can imagine. The family (the founding couple plus three sons) does not own the land, but has production rights. As long as they keep producing, they can stay. Over the years they’ve doubled their acreage by moving the fence line. They’re up to about 80 acres now. The place reminded us of “Abraham’s Garden” in India where one corner had bananas, another corner coffee, another corner Fruta Bomba. How they carry on two full time careers, who knows.

This evening we got to our last stop, a sand and sun tourist hotel, part of a chain called Melia, in Verdadero. All inclusive, so one must exercise some restraint, or not.

We had our day at the beach. Discovered a new drink—Mulata. We’ve now had enough of what most people seek forever for vacations—surf, sand, and tradewinds. It was a nice drive back to Havana airport. All went well until we got on the plane and it was discovered that there were several duplicate seat numbers on boarding passes. Then, when everyone got seated, it turned out that we had to wait almost an hour to get the luggage loaded. We pulled into Miami a couple of hours late. Immigration was very quick because of the new auto-kiosks that actually you’re your picture. Efficiency is nice, but couldn’t help thinking about how many jobs it wiped out. Because of the late hour, we canceled plans for a group dinner in Little Havana and gathered in the downstairs bar to drink and kiss good-bye. So now we will kiss you all goodbye as well. Hasta la hasta to and from Cuba.

YELLOW ROSE REVIEW FROM DUBLIN

Here’s what Alex Pilalis of Dublin, whose The Awakening of James Island I recently reviewed, thought of The Yellow Rose. Five stars, children!

The Yellow Rose is an impressive, authentic Western, filled with the usual tropes of war and Revolution and romance, but with enough of its own charm to be fresh and new while still feeling familiar. I found it to be a very thrilling read. 

Alex-Pilalis
ALEX PILALIS

The lead, Sam Houston, is a hero straight out of the old westerns, and I could easily see him standing toe to toe with the likes of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. Or for a more contemporary comparison, I also saw a bit of Mel Gibson’s Maverick in him too. Especially with his playful interactions with the secondary lead, Emily West, a tough, smart, sexy free woman who’s always far more intelligent than anyone gives her credit. Both characters are very well realised and it was fun and interesting to live with them for the duration of the book. 

The writing is relentlessly authentic, and was a joy to read. I could tell that a lot of research, time, effort and care went into this book, and reading about its history and development raised my appreciation of it even more. 

There is a somewhat jarring shift in voice between the chapters, third person for Sam’s chapters, and first person for Emily’s, but it’s not such an issue that I didn’t become accustomed to it soon enough. I would also have liked for some of the supporting characters to have been fleshed out a bit more, and to have spent a little more time with them, as some seemed like very interesting and complex people, while the focus mostly stayed with Sam and Emily. Aside from a bit of a lull around the middle, the pacing and story keeps moving enough to hold interest and maintain its charm. 

I would highly recommend this book to any lovers of westerns, history, romance, and good old-fashioned frontier fun. 

Thanks for the read!