BLUE RIDGE, BLACK HEART (a book review)

Blue Ridge, Black Heart
The real book cover doesn’t fade out…

Novel by Geraldine Powell

Morgan Pike is a private investigator. She should be a defense attorney, protecting the rights of her occasionally innocent, but usually guilty, clientele for hundreds of dollars an hour. Unfortunately, seeing her law license suspended for 4 years has taken her down another road. Now she spends much of her time following would-be adulterers, gathering evidence for divorce cases.

One day she receives a request from frustrated parents looking for their daughter, who they believe has been kidnapped. The police don’t see much to go on – they’re convinced she’s run off with a boyfriend – so they are not investigating. Against the advice of colleagues, who see these types of cases as dead-ends, Morgan decides to look into the girl’s disappearance. It’s not long before she finds herself up against one of the wealthiest families in Georgia and wishing she had said no to the case. Sniper rifles and car bombs will do that to a girl.

I have to confess a weakness for the mystery genre told from the first-person. When done right, nothing much beats it, but you need a solid narrator. Characters like Elvis Cole (Robert Crais), and Penn Cage (Greg Iles) have consistently entertained me over the years, so consider that a bias.

As a point of comparison, while reading this, I was actually reminded a little bit of a female police detective created by a local author (local to Chicagoland) named J.A. Konrath. That was a fantastic narrator, with depth and about 30 neuroses. Unfortunately, the author surrounded that character with cardboard secondary characters and often stomach-churning, outlandish plots. In Blue Ridge, Black Heart, author Geraldine Powell’s lead character lacks some of the depth, but makes up for it with a solid supporting cast, a fluid narration, and a plot that unfolds naturally and never feels forced. In other words, I think she gets it right. Her prose is almost conversational, without being breezy or lazy. I hope that makes sense. It’s enjoyable to read the narration, even when the plot isn’t barreling forward.

There are a couple of miss-steps along the way, like a trip to New Orleans that fails to build suspense or really move the plot along. Some character building saves it, but just barely. There is also a relatively narrow list of suspects that’s paired down almost immediately, leaving little room for the reader’s mind to wander or for the author to play. I’m nit-picking, though. I usually find at least one thing to nit-pick in a novel, and there it is.

From the beginning, I felt the author was right at home in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the surrounding areas of Tennessee and Georgia. She knows the region and uses it to her advantage, while supplying an intriguing backdrop with a lot more dimension than the constant stream of meth dealers in, say, the Tennessee-centric television show Justified. Her knowledge helps her easily build each scene and draw the reader into the world of Morgan Pike. Morgan is a tough gal without being a caricature, she’s humorous without being a clown, she’s an everyday hero with everyday flaws who frequently gets it wrong. That makes her both likable and relatable, which is incredibly important in this type of story.

Could Morgan Pike novels become a series? I hope so. She got the name for it. It depends on what the author wants to write about. A quick scan of Geraldine Powell’s bio indicates her interests and experience are pretty much everywhere. That means she has a lot of material she can mine if she wants to keep the character going.

Blue Ridge, Black Heart is a fun and absorbing read. If the author can keep this up (and if she wants to), it could be a great series.

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