Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Back in early May, I forced myself to look in the mirror and admit I had painted myself into a corner with reading commitments. Review copies, challenges, I have them coming out of my ears. I hate to fail at anything, so right then and there, I pledged that I would get caught up, and would not accept any review copies until I'd accomplished my task.
Then here comes Ms. Irene Ziegler, who sends me an e-mail "pitching a platypus". A what? Her latest book, she tells me, is a mysterary. A little of this a little of that, like a platypus. She tells me she grew up in Florida (in Deland actually, which is just north of Orlando), has Polish ancestry, and her books have very little in common with Nicholas Sparks. So obviously she did her homework, and has a hilarious sense of humor. This wasn't the half of it...you should check out her blog! Not only does she have a resume that includes novels, voiceovers and acting, this lady is a piece of work! How could I say no? You're right, I couldn't. Irene did mention she was out of actual ARCs, but still I did a double-take when her package arrived, all 400 pages on copy paper! Ack! But it didn't even matter. It was all good.
The story centers on Annie Bartlett, a girl forever damaged by her mother's suicide when Annie was a little girl. So damaged, in fact, that even as an adult, she still "sees" her mother and has two-way conversations with her. Despite this little wrinkle in her mental health, she has moved away from home, met a wonderful man, and has established a successful photography career. But when she receives word that her estranged father has been murdered, she must return to her childhood home to face a few demons, maybe at the expense of her comfortable life.
The childhood home being Deleon Florida, which, for all intents and purposes, is Ziegler's Deland. It is your typical small town full of personalities, all of them in each other's business and carrying around grudges and hidden agendas. Annie soon discovers that her father's accused murderer, his girlfriend, may actually be innocent, but nobody seems to care, including the town judge and the accused's lawyer (Annie's high school sweetheart). Add to that little pot of trouble a series of suspicious fires, Annie's older drug-addicted sex-addicted sister, unresolved guilt over Annie's feud with her father, and a growing body count.
There is something very atmospheric about small towns in Florida. If you have spent any amount of time in them, you know what I mean. They are maddening, they are charming, you hate them when you are in them, but miss them when you are not. I find myself generally smitten with authors that effectively integrate this atmosphere into their stories (which Ziegler does). Does this mean it wouldn't have the same impact if you live in Wisconsin? I don't know...I always loved stories set in New Orleans, and I don't live there. But with novels that utilize this atmosphere properly, you feel like you've been there. Ticket to anywhere. It's cool.
Ziegler has constructed a platypus, for sure. The writing is respectable, with a touch of humor that you would expect from the author, knowing what you know. There are relationship issues going in ten different directions, the protagonist is likable, there is a mystery or two, and some skulduggery. The ultimate evil-doer was impossible to guess, although the big reveal felt a little hokey. The pages turn quickly, even if they are unbound (ha!). I might have liked it if an important character had been thrown under the bus (I like that kind of moxie), but the plots weren't completely buttoned up either, which is a bonus. Do I smell a series here?
I did discover that Ziegler wrote a prequel to Ashes to Water, called Rules of the Lake. (I hate it when this happens!) However, I never felt like I was missing out on anything by not having read it. There is ample background provided on Annie and her family, enough to allow us to appreciate the nuances of the interrelationships. But I guess I know what MY next purchase is going to be...
4 out of 5 stars