The latest Sam Harper mystery may leave the devil waiting, but not the readers. This gritty mystery series lies at the crossroads of crime and thrillers, both 87th Precinct and Davinci Code. Bodies of teenagers are washing ashore in an apocalypse of murder and intrigue spanning the dark dangerous world, from Vatican to Colombia to Harper’s hometown of Chandler, Mass. Drugs to ancient religious secrets to serial killers, this book has it all.
But the book’s unrelenting drama isn’t what captures me. It is the character Sam Harper and author Stephens. She writes with a forensic authority that makes these pages bleed with real world angst. Detective Harper is a well-realized, no-nonsense cop, a streetwise guy who refuses to give up despite the odds. When the going gets rough, everyone else has given up, an easy option looms, and the race becomes overwhelming, Harper is just getting started. He is the original it ain’t over guy. He literally pushes himself beyond physical collapse to solve crimes. He refuses to let any criminal escape on his watch.
Reviewed by Aaron Paul Lazar
A great read doesn't have to be fancy, full of literary allusions or deep musings. Nor does it need a ritzy setting, plots that twist your brain into a pretzel, or elite protagonists.
What a great read does need is a story that moves, characters who linger in your mind, and a voice that calls you back to its pages. Avenging Angel by Kim Smith accomplished all three.
Smith has written a suspenseful cozy mystery set in the south in a small lazy town. Shannon Wallace, a spunky, smart, and all-American young woman, is at the brink of disaster. Dumped by her beau, fired from her job, and plunged into the middle of a killer nightmare, Shannon's pluck and smarts carry her forward in a tidal wave of terror that will get your heart pumping in this delightful page turner.
When Shannon's boyfriend is murdered hours after he breaks up with her, she discovers their private video collection is missing. Problem is, the star of the intimate show is Shannon, and she'll do everything in her power to retrieve the embarrassing disks.
The author knows how to write. But best of all, she knows how to write like she talks. It's not easy to accomplish, as most debut authors tend to fall into the trap of using words that sound good but don't fit, or making a sentence far more complex than it needs to be. Smith's simple, straightforward, and quite endearing style is what drives Avenging Angel forward, with hints of colorful Southern dialect and engaging dialogue.
That said, there are select moments of literary prose that shine, as in the following excerpt:
"August in the Mid-South is like summer in the tropics. The crepe myrtles bloom in fuchsia and pink, and old people perch like lazy flies on white wicker swings and cane chairs. In every neighborhood, folded fans gently wave at the heat, and everyone talks about the weather. No one moves too much, or too fast, thanks to the humidity, which turns the still air into a sauna-like atmosphere even before daybreak. The firmest hair spray is reduced to damp stickiness, the best-laid plans are set-aside until evening, and the most even-tempered person will contemplate murdering their friend."
By contrast, take a look at this wonderfully simple, yet engaging, segment:
"My dreams were a mish mash of colors and snippets from my life. I saw myself as a child, orphaned. I relived the pain that accompanied it until it nearly drowned me and woke with tears on my face. The birds of summer played somewhere outside the window and all the sounds of nature seemed intensified as though reassuring me I was still alive."
As much as I enjoyed the plot line-straightforward, tense, great suspense-it was the relationships between Shannon, Dwayne, Salvatore, her elderly aunts, and the broad cast of suspects that sold me.
I was most pleased that Shannon didn't fall into the arms of the handsome local detective, because that would have made the work too predictable, trite, or Lifetime Movie-ish. No, Shannon held her own, wasn't pushed around by the cops, and survived numerous attacks by a very frightening assailant. This woman-while she does show very real emotions that ring true-won't be bullied by anyone. And when Dwayne helps her buy and learn to use a handgun, it may be the key to her survival.
Smith, "a true blue southern gal who was raised on black-eyed peas and cornbread," promises sequels to her captivating world.
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Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. Her books are available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website.THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (November 3, 2008)
SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book FestivalTop Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)
Visit Sam Harper at http://www.samharpercrimescene.blogspot.com