by D.C. Corso
There are plenty of ways to die in a place like Carver Isle, Washington. There is blood, there is sweat and there is soil, and there are the leaves that wither and fall from the trees, crunching underfoot as they're raked into orderly piles. Fall is never anything more than a season in the small Washington town of Carver Isle - until the first child vanishes. None of them could have known what lay in wait for them, crouched at the end of that darkened hallway of a year. It began just two days after the Twin Towers fell, first with one missing child, and then another. When Parker Kelly returns to Carver Isle, she wonders if her disturbed cousin is involved. After confiding in FBI Special Agent Ash, she realizes that the truth lies buried deep in her past. Together, Parker and Ash must solve a puzzle of deceit and manipulation, exhuming secrets both would rather leave undisturbed.
I am of two minds about this book. On the one hand, I liked it more than most murder mysteries/thrillers/crime books I've read in the past. Corso, unlike many writers in this genre, didn't get bogged down in trying to be so dark that her characters become unrelatable and hopeless. F.B.I. agent Severin Ash (can we take a moment to talk about how cool a name that is?) isn't a hard-boiled, portly cigar-smoker; nor is he a wise-cracking hardass with a heart of gold. Corso skillfully avoided these cliches, and I thank her profusely for that. Ash understands how serious his work is trying to save endangered children, but he's not completely devoid of a sense of humor, and where it cropped up, it was a nice counterpoint to the darkness of the subject matter. Kelly Parker is for the most part nicely fleshed out as well, and her anxiety and the slow reveal of her backstory draw the reader in and allow the reader to share in it. She and Ash come together well and play off of each other nicely. The characters (the adult characters, at least) felt real and believable. At one point I was struck by something Ash said when he was telling Parker about his search as a teen for his murdered sister's body:
Parker's eyes widened. "You found her?"Little things like this say a lot about a character, and I think this really spoke for who Ash is and made him believable.
Ash nodded. "She was in the woods not far from a footpath. The dog finally just started going buts, digging like crazy, running back and forth around one soft spot in the ground, near a sapling. And I knew. Stupid dog was wagging his tail, like he thought Maddie was hiding. Like she had a treat for him down there... I started to dig, with my hands. I didn't want to use a shovel. I was afraid of hurting her, of breaking her.
The story was very readable and their was great tension. It was of the type that, though you know who the bad guy is and how it's likely to go down, you're still a little anxious. The villains are appropriately villainous but not over the top, and Ash's and Parker's backstories add a nice layer of believability and worry. Without giving anything away, it's a great cat and mouse. Most of the time I find myself rolling my eyes when I read thrillers, and I didn't do that often in this one. It was engaging and brief in a good way; the short length made for a fast-paced and succinct novel, and I enjoyed that.
I guess most of my problems lied in the fact that I wish Ms. Corso had had a thorough editor who was willing to talk through some decisions with her and help with continuity overall. Setting aside the irritating and obvious grammar, structure and/or spelling issues, there occasionally cropped up some issues in the continuity that bugged me. For example, when Ash uses a busboy to help him surreptitiously collect evidence:
Ash took a twenty-dollar bill out of his wallet. "And he didn't see you, right?"Things like this irritate me. Or another example, Kendall is referred to as being 12, then 11, but acts like she's about 6:
"No, I waited until he left."
Ash handed over the ten. "Thanks."
"It's something special. I made it for you...A secret, like you asked." Kendall handed him the fold-out paper pumpkin. Colored with orange crayon, thick and clumsy black outlines traced the eyes and mouth. She had forgotten to draw the inside parts yellow until afterwards so she'd colored over the orange, creating a red hue that Quint found desperate and sad.
A 12 year old may not be a Picasso, but I think most can handle coloring a Jack-o-lantern. I had a little problem with the kids in general, actually, as they seemed to alternate between acting/speaking too young for their given ages, and acting/speaking too old. However, I did like their place in the story, and with a little more attention to realism, I wouldn't have had a qualm where they were concerned.
Another issue I had was that there were moments of general confusion. I don't typically have a hard time following even the most circuitous or convoluted piece of writing, but there were a number of times when I felt like I was missing something. I would read back over what I had just read, and I would still be a bit confused. It was like their were weird jumps or abrupt changes, and it made it seem as if something was missing, almost as if something had been cut in revision but not smoothed over, or as if something needed to be clarified in revision and wasn't. These are things that happen in writing, but they should be noted and fixed, which is why I felt like with the help of a good editor I would have loved this story rather than just liking it. And it extends to more than just little flubs and confusing bits. I think an editor would have talked through some of the peripheral choices Corso made, and why they were important. For example, the book is set in September of 2001, days after the WTC attacks. This is referenced a few times, but it really has no bearing on the story, and acts basically as a distracting element, so I don't know why the decision was made to set it then. It could easily have been changed. Year didn't even need to be mentioned, frankly, and it probably would have been wiser not to, as that can date a book pretty quickly. An editor would have (or should have) pointed these types of things out, and asked Corso questions to get the best, most stream-lined and put-together story possible.
So, though at times it felt like a draft rather than a finished piece, it was still a good and compelling story, and trim enough to mean that you can fly through it fairly quickly. If you like crime/mystery/thrillers, I don't think you'll necessarily be disappointed in this one, though since I don't generally like them, maybe the opposite is true...
- One quick, short and sweet Bonus Material: visit the Skin and Bones website for a sample chapter, reviews, author info, etc.