JANUARY 2000 |
Arlaine Rockey has written a legal mystery which I assume has a strong autobiographical streak. The book is well presented and the locales in which the story is set are obviously very familiar to her. Perhaps the strongest parts of the book are those set in law offices and courtrooms, where she does a good job of explaining the issues and procedures without making the reader feel that highly artificial dialogs are taking place in order to squeeze the information out.
The plot itself kept my interest throughout. It involves the search for a killer, but more importantly, for the person on whose instructions the killing has taken place. It moves through Miami's cultures easily, and gives the impression of a city in which there is always something going on, much of which I suspect I'd rather not know about. Relationships are complex, both long and ultra-short term, straight and gay, and sometimes very confusing. Ms. Rockey started the novel in 1991 but put it aside for some years after hearing of the fatal illness of a friend who helped her to edit the first draft.
Therein lies the book's weakness. I realise that as a one-time sub-editor I may be accused of special pleading, but this book badly needed a good editor--not because the book is hopeless, but because a firm editor's hand could have made a good book into an exceptional first novel. There are three areas where I see scope for improvement; there are some careless typos--is the main protagonist Avery Guerin, as on the cover and in the publicity material, or Avery Geurin, as appears in most of the text?; during some extended pieces of dialog, there are insufficient pointers to the identity of the speaker, so I found myself retracing my steps to the last attributed line and counting A, B, A, B from there; and there are a tremendous number of characters. This is, of course, common in mysteries, where muddying the water makes it harder for the reader to spot the key clues, but I had serious trouble remembering who a person was when they turned up again two or three chapters later, and kept forgetting whether two people were romantic or business partners.
Now that the book is published, the opportunity to set these things right has passed, which is a great shame, because Ms. Rockey has the ability to write what--to this British ear--sounds like authentic dialog. Characters say the kinds of things you thought they would say, and rarely does anything jar. The plot is clever, and more than two-thirds of the book had passed before I was fairly sure that I had an idea what had caused the deaths. Even then, I was curious about the details, and the author has set a puzzle which many of us will want to see solved completely.
Ms. Rockey is at work on her second novel, which I shall look forward to reading. I have no doubt about her ability as a writer, but I do hope she finds a good editor to replace her lost friend.
GRAHAM BRACK, a pharmacist by day, is the staff book reviewer for Renaissance Online Magazine. He lives in Cornwall, England.