Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Of Blood and Blackwater

Author: T.C. Heffernan
Publisher: AuthorHouse
ISBN: 1-4259-3445-5

Ethnobotanist Gareth McKenna is troubled by terrifying nightmares. His terror mounts when he realizes that his nightmares are connected to the vicious murders of several young women in his hometown. Portland police detective Armando (Army) Padilla and FBI profiler Caroline Baxter’s investigation is stymied until a vital piece of evidence points toward Gareth as their prime suspect. Gareth’s journey to stay out of their reach and identify the killer leads him deep into the Amazonian jungle, to the place where, several years earlier, he completed the research that led to his life’s work. Gareth’s girlfriend, Karin, does not quite understand what he is experiencing. Nevertheless, she steadfastly assists him in his quest to clear his name. As the story ends, with a hint that Army and Caroline may one day become lovers, Gareth and Karin embark on a honeymoon journey along the Amazon River.

Of Blood and Blackwater is a very good book, particularly for a first novel. Heffernan uses a deft balance of action and dialog to develop his characters. All of them, even the murderer, capture and hold the reader’s attention and empathy. Gareth and Karin’s relationship survives a horrible test of love and trust. Army and Caroline have to deal with issues related to their past relationships and losses before their relationship can grow. Even the murderer, as thoroughly chilling as Hannibal Lecter, elicits sympathy as he desperately hopes to find love and companionship with one of his victims. My only disappointment with Heffernan’s character development concerns his use of Marvin Hayes, the sleazy reporter, รก la paparazzo, who exposes Gareth to public humiliation and scrutiny. His appearances, while spectacular, are frustratingly stereotypical.

In addition to drawing good characters, Heffernan paces his story well. He provides enough description to draw the reader into the book’s locales yet avoids getting bogged down in minutiae. He uses dialog to reveal the minds and hearts of his characters and to provide information that moves the story forward. Even though the action never falters, the reader never feels as if the author is rushing ahead too quickly and omitting necessary details. Back story scenes are woven into the storyline skillfully, so that they do not strike the reader as filler material or tangents. Heffernan strikes the right balance between back story, action, dialog and description to keep the story moving forward at all times.

My only significant criticism of this book is that it has several typographical errors of the type that typically occur when drafting, refining and editing on a computer. Diligent attention to the fine points of proofreading and editing would raise the standard of Heffernan’s work, which is already quite high, considerably higher.

Heffernan acquired his knowledge of botany and geography through his many personal and professional experiences as a scientist and world traveler. This knowledge is displayed tastefully, never pedantically, throughout the book. The details of the narrative ring true and the drama engrosses the reader deeply. This certainly is a book that thriller lovers will not want to miss. I, for one, will be on the lookout for future books from this author.

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