Book Reviews: Dark Passage by Marcia Talley and Undercurrent by Paul Blackwell

Dark PassageDark Passage
A Hannah Ives Mystery
Marcia Talley
Severn House, September 2013
ISBN 978-0-7278-8278-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Hannah, her sisters and fourteen-year-old niece Julie set sail from Baltimore on a bonding cruise, and have a dramatic first night when Pia Fanucci, a bubbly bartender magician’s assistant whom Hannah befriends, narrowly escapes injury during an illusion. But while Pia may make light of the incident, it’s no laughing matter when Julie suddenly disappears. Has she gone overboard, or is she injured somewhere on the enormous ship?
 
To make matters worse, Hannah meets David Warren, a grieving father whose twenty-two-year-old daughter vanished without trace from an earlier cruise. With claims of a proper investigation proving to be an illusion too far, Hannah teams up with David and Pia in desperation. Can they see through the ship’s smoke and mirrors to reveal the identity of a dangerous sea-faring predator?

In the interest of fair play, let me say this first—I know Marcia Talley although I haven’t seen her in years. She used to come to my bookstore for events and I have been a fan of her books for a long time. So, yes, I can’t help but be a little bit biased, but I believe you’ll find this a balanced review.

Hannah Ives has grown a lot over the years. We walked along beside her after she survived breast cancer but lost her job and discovered that she has a talent for solving crimes. Since then, Hannah has gotten family members and friends—even herself—out of one criminal crisis or another and branched out into helping others, all the while doing her sleuthing quietly and with a lot of thought. She’ll need all her experience and knowledge of human nature to get to the bottom of a cold case while she and her sisters are on a cruise. Once Julie, her 14-year-old niece, on the cruise with her mom and aunts, becomes a victim, Hannah is even more determined to ferret out the killer.

The feeling that jumped out at me about this story, almost from the beginning, is comfort, in an odd sort of way. Partly, that’s because I’ve been on cruises so the setting was very familiar. The sisterly bonding thing affected me, too, although I have no sisters; as my daughters have become mature women, I’ve found that we have a similar kind of bond and I enjoyed seeing Hannah, Ruth and Georgina spending some much-needed time together without the distractions of husbands and homes and jobs.

As for the sleuthing, I kind of think this is not Ms. Talley‘s strongest entry in the series largely because Hannah was not quite as efficient as she usually is and she was actually wrong about a few things, jumping to some very quick and inaccurate conclusions while I had it pegged fairly early. On the other hand, this is a nice riff on the locked room mystery trope and I did thoroughly enjoy myself. Dark Passage is a fun vacation read for fans of suspense with a lot of wit and red herrings and I’m already anticipating Hannah’s next adventure in crime.

One last thing—as a former and, hopefully, future cruiser, I really appreciated the chapter-heading notes about security and safety on these ships. they’re worthwhile for anyone planning a trip on the high seas.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.

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UndercurrentUndercurrent
Paul Blackwell
HarperTeen, July 2013
ISBN 978-0-06-212350-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Sixteen-year-old Callum Harris survives a plummet over a waterfall, but wakes to find himself in a life that’s totally different from the one he knew.
 
His parents were separated. Now they’re together. His brother Cole was a sports star. Now he’s paralyzed. And Callum, who used to be quiet and sort of unpopular, is suddenly a jock with two hot girls after him.
 
But there’s one difference that matters more than all the others combined: His former best friend wants Callum dead. And he isn’t the only one.

From beginning to end, Undercurrent is a puzzle, starting with Callum waking up in a world that’s just not quite right. It’s the little things that seem off at first but then the problems begin to mushroom. Most horrifying is his discovery that his brother, Cole, who’s a jock and a bully, now lies paralyzed and Callum has no idea what happened to him.

Callum begins to realize that people don’t even know him by his “real” name—they call him Cal—and that he is suddenly one of the popular guys and, yet, some people want him dead. Why? Even his dog doesn’t want to be around him. And why is his dad living at home again? Why do classmates Willow and Bryce treat him so oddly now? Perhaps most of all, why did he go over that waterfall?

From then on, it all just kind of meanders along and the behavior of certain people, especially Callum and his parents (much too casual about what happened), just didn’t keep me engaged very well. To me, the intended point of this story is to highlight how everything in one’s life can hinge on one small decision, much like the ripple effect of a stone thrown in a pond but getting the reader there is something of a drag. Callum now has one more decision to make but this one might have even more significance; he may die.

Readers may very well treat this book on two levels. Some will see it as a somewhat simple story about a rift in dimensions while others will look for a deeper meaning, more navel-gazing, if you will. I enjoyed Undercurrent but I’m not sure it really reaches that more significant plane. The plot is really rather thin and slow and I would expect a moderately intelligent teen to come to grips with his different reality sooner than Callum did. Perhaps the premise would have been better suited to a novella format so that the author would have had to step up the pace.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.