Tag Archives: detective

The Twist Feels More Like a Trick

LeavingTimeJodi Picoult’s novel Leaving TimeĀ tells the story of teenager Jenna Metcalfe’s decades long search for her mother who disappeared–a dedicated scientist who was studying grief in elephants. When Jenna was a baby, something horrible happened one night at the elephant sanctuary where her family lived. A caretaker was found trampled to death and Jenna’s mother was taken to the hospital, only to disappear hours later and never return. If she was still alive, why hadn’t she returned for Jenna? The daughter’s search for her mother and the search for the truth about what happened that night leads her to accept help from two unlikely characters. The first is Serenity Jones–a famous psychic specializing in lost children who has lost her powers and knows she’s a fraud–the second, an out-of-work private eye, Virgil Stanhope, a former detective who investigated the case years ago and ignored critical evidence. All Jenna has to go by is a pile of her mother’s journals wherein she makes observations about the nature of grief in elephants and tracks their behavior. It isn’t long, however, before the mother’s writings and the events playing out start to dovetail. Eventually, hard questions the characters ask of themselves arrive with difficult questions they have to face.

Picoult draws some quirky and intriguing characters in this work and tells the story in the point of view of four main ones: Jenna, Serenity, Virgil, and Alice (through her journals.) I think this approach works, although other readers have found it jarring and disruptive to the flow of the story. I particularly enjoyed the amount of description about elephant behavior via the character of the mother, although, again, other readers criticized the level of detail, claiming it slowed the pace of the story. I did not, however, connect with the “main” character, Jenna, and felt she was too precocious, too smart and confident for her age and circumstances, and lacking certain dimension. More important, I was very let down with the ending. I felt as if the author had not prepared us for the twist at all and it had the feeling of being forced and very contrived. When an author holds back critical information from the reader to execute a big reveal, it always runs the risk of making the reader feel cheated–as if the author held back information just to trick you. The ending did not satisfy, as I said, and short of going back and re-reading the story, I’m convinced there were some continuity problems that would have made the events impossible. ((Hard to describe without spoilers)).

On the positive side, Picoult’s prose as always is luscious and rich, her dialog sharp. As mentioned, I drank in the scenes describing the elephants and wanted to research more about them. Ultimately, however, I would describe the book as “The Secret Life of Bees” meets “The Sixth Sense.”

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‘Gone Missing’ Doesn’t Miss

GoneMissingIt’s comforting to settle in with a book featuring a character you’ve come to know and love. That’s the case with R. Lanier Clemons’ second title, Gone Missing, featuring novice detective Jonelle Sweet. In this second book, Sweet is assigned not one but two quirky cases. One involves a widow who claims her dead husband visits at night to steal her jewels and the other a missing transgender actress who has left a trail of broken hearts and suspicious characters in her wake.

Intrepid Jonelle Sweet is not only dedicated to her work in solving the case, but also to helping the victims and clients. She becomes emotionally invested in the cases and brings all to bear–to include facing her claustrophobia or going into dangerous places or crashing walking into clubs where she is strikingly out of place. In this new tale, we are re-acquainted with a few characters from the first novel, but Clemons introduces some new ones. One such new character is the fluff but wise homeless man, Luther, which I suspect we will see more of in subsequent works.

The plot of Gone Missing is more complex than Clemons’ first work, providing more twists and turns to the keep the reader guessing. As always, the author’s voice is fresh, brash and funny, the setting is gritty, and the plot engaging. Clemons’ Jonelle Sweet is a sweet new treat on the mystery reader’s plate.

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