Grade: Δ — Solid read, but only buy it if you like the genre.
The eleventh outing for Barbara Holloway proves to be far from Kate Wilhelm’s best work, but is still a good enough story if you enjoy the Barbara Holloway series. It is a mystery/crime thriller of the old school, where we follow our intrepid heroine though the twists and turns of two cases, apparently linked but separated by twenty years. It is definitely not the book to begin with, however, as that it picks up the personal subplot story lines of Barbara well into their progression and would likely both spoil earlier books and confuse the new reader. If you have read the others in the series this story will likely prove an enjoyable read, if not, go back to some of Barbara’s earlier cases.
Eugene Oregon, present day.
I should start by noting that I listened to this book on my iTouch, and that gives a very different experience to sitting down to read a story. To that end, some of my critiques of this tale might be jaded by the medium I experienced it in. It is hard to stop and check who is who while listening to an audiobook.
The story opened with multiple Point-of-View changes (five in the first four chapters) that left me confused. I was quickly lost in a sea of characters, which no doubt was not helped by the fact that I hadn’t read a Barbara Holloway story in some time and so couldn’t quite remember who the regulars were. If I had been reading it, instead of listening to it, I might have had an easier time, but as it stood I had to re-listen to some chapters to figure out who was who. Once I diagramed out who was who, however, I began to get drawn into the story.
That being said, there were certain elements that strained my suspension of disbelief. Most prevalent of these were the assumptions the author made regarding the way left-wing political views would be greeted both by academia and, more important, within the city of Eugene Oregon. At several points through the story, Barbara fears that her outspoken client, who is being investigated for murder, will be seen with a negative bias due to atheistic and ‘radical’ viewpoints. But, you see, I live in Eugene (or nearby) and I just can’t see a jury made of its populace as being anything but sympathetic to an outspoken critic of America. The same is true within academia, particularly the field of History which this character works in. Indeed, one might think the opposite would be true and that a hard core Conservative would find it hard to have an unbiased jury, or make it as a successful historian for that matter.
Having said that, the writing still pulled me past this and kept me reading on. Still, it never really drew me in as much as Wilhelm’s other works. It was a solid read, but as the 11th in a series, one can’t really claim that it would be a book that anyone who doesn’t like the genre, or indeed the series, should pick up.