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Review of China Lake, a novel by Meg Gardiner.
I am reviewing the paperback version of the book, ISBN 978-0340822949, Published by Hodder Books in 2002. Genre:- mystery/crime/thriller, 496 pages, cover price £6.99
China Lake is the first in a series of five novels featuring the main character, Evan Delaney. The books are listed below in order of publication:-
China Lake (2002)
Mission Canyon (2003)
Jericho Point (2004)
Kill Chain (2006)
**The Plot and Background to the Characters**
China Lake is a thriller set in the Santa Barbara region of America. The central character, Evan Delaney is a young lawyer. She is single, but in a relationship with Jesse, a fellow lawyer. She is a tough woman with a sharp tongue and a vast stock of snappy verbal one liners and put downs. Evan has an older brother, Brian, who has been abandoned by his wife Tabitha. Brian is serving with the military and is unable to look after his six year old son, Luke, due to his military commitments.
Evan has been caring for the child ever since his mother left, some nine months earlier. There has been little contact with Tabitha and Evan cannot understand how her sister in law could abandon her child. The little boy is happy enough with his aunt and very rarely asks for or even mentions his mother.
Brian has now received a home posting to China Lake, the military base where the Delaney family grew up, so he will be able to have his son with him. Like is excited by the prospect of living with his father full-time and Evan is slightly dreading his departure, yet looking forward to getting on with her own life and her relationship with Jesse.
The storyline opens with Evan attending the funeral of a friend's mother, Claudine, who has died from AIDS. At the funeral, members of a radical religious cult, The Remnant, cause a scene by picketing the funeral. Their leader, 'Pastor Pete', Peter Wyoming, heads the catcalling and insult shouting Remnant crowd. Their taunts and jeers are offensive and racist, Evan confronts the Pastor and becomes involved in a verbal exchange. Her sharp and cutting tongue is no match for the religious fervour of Remnant's deluded, extremist Pastor Pete, who drops the bombshell that Tabitha Delaney, Evan's sister-in-law, is now a Remnant member.
The plot progresses into a nightmare ride into the dark world of the Remnant cult. They operate a 'leaderless resistance' movement, whilst Pastor Pete heads the band they have off-shoot groups and work on a need to know regime. The cult are convinced that they are the remnants of true Christianity and will stop at nothing to achieve their goal, to cleanse the world of non-believers. The Remnant are anti almost everything, from the Latin language to prostitution. As the plot progresses, Evan finds herself fighting for her life and those of her brother, nephew and boyfriend.
**About the Author**
Meg Gardiner was born in Oklahoma and brought up in Santa Barbara. She attended Stanford Law School and on graduation, practised law in Los Angeles. She later took a career change and began teaching in the Writing Program at the University of California, in Santa Barbara. She now lives in England with her husband and three children in the family home in Cobham, Surrey.
More about Meg Gardiner can be found on her website:-
**My Thoughts and Conclusion**
Meg Gardiner's novels were unknown to me prior to reading China Lake, so I had no preconceptions regarding the book. I found the subject matter of the plot fascinating yet unpleasant in parts. The plot is very fast paced and on the whole, the characters are well drawn and likeable, where they should be, and extremely un-likeable where they shouldn't!
I found myself becoming a little bored with Evan's sharp tongue and felt that perhaps the author had overstressed this aspect of her leading character's personality.
The storyline has many twists, turns and sub-plots as the plot unravelled at a rate of knots, Evan's strong personality and character carried the other characters throughout. I must admit that I found myself having to backtrack occasionally in order to recall who was who.
The final chapters of the novel were far fetched in my opinion, but this is fiction, so perhaps that can be forgiven. The novel had me gripped from the very beginning and I would certainly recommend China Lake to those who enjoy a fast paced crime/thriller with a topical and a somewhat emotive storyline.
I have not decided yet whether I will read the other books in the series. If I do, I will update this review accordingly.
Thank you for reading.
©brittle1906 June 2010
N.B. My reviews may be found on other review sites under the same user name.
Evan Delaney is a former lawyer, turned successful writer and freelance reporter, who has taken temporary custody of her nephew after her brother's marriage broke down. Her first encounter with the religious End-Times cult, The Remnant, comes at the funeral for a friend who is also an AIDS campaigner but it is far from her last... it soon transpires that Evan's former sister-in-law is now a member of the cult and desperately wants to take her son back. Before long, The Remant have become a prominent figure in Evan and her nephew's lives and it seems as though they have a deadly agenda! Promoting leaderless resistance, the group seem determined with their religious zealot, that if the End Times are not going to begin of their own accord then The Remnant are going to help them happen! Then Evan's brother, Brian, is implicated in the murder of the cult's leader and suddenly things begin to get even more personal! Thus begins a tense and well-crafted thriller that is a high-octane read from start to finish!
This is quite impressive for a debut novel and lead character, Evan Delaney, is a very likeable figure. It is difficult initially to see where the future lies for this character (this being the first book in a series) but certainly China Lake is a cracking good read that engrosses you from very early on. The ending is a bit too action-packed and reeks of Hollywood big budget influences but this is only a small niggle and the rest of the story is quickly engaging; pulling the reader into its world flawlessly in no time at all!
This is by no means the greatest thriller of all time, and comes across a little like a female version of Dan Brown but with a touch more style and panache, but it is certainly worth a read by anyone's standards. I got my copy cheap from the bookstand in Morrisons but it can be picked up on Ebay or Amazon for an equally reasonable price. Meg Gardiner is never likely to be a big hitter in the thriller genre but it is certainly true that she is off to a good start with this impressive debut!
The story unfolds in Santa Barbara, home of our heroine, Evan Delaney. Evan's six year old nephew currently lives with her, his Dad being posted to the Naval Air Warfare Centre in China Lake and his mum's whereabouts unknown. Unfortunately, events turn sour when a funeral of a family friend gathers some unwanted attention from a religious cult called the Remnant. Sassy Evan, definitely no shrinking violet, has a few choice words for the groups leader, Wyoming and from here, her adventures begin. Why does she get involved? Well, here comes the crunch (and I promise you this does not give away too much of the book!) - guess who has joined the Remnants? - Luke's Mum Tabitha! Guess what else? - They want Luke back! Now, who would trust an evil, gunweilding religious cult with a six year old? Not Evan! Unfortunatley, the Remnant are as devious as they are evil, they have Tabitha on side and when one of their group ends up dead, they have the perfect scapegoat in Evans brother.
Evans personal life isn't without its ups and downs either. Her boyfriend, Jesse, is still dealing with the aftermath of being mowed down, left for dead and losing his friend in the same horrific accident. He is trying to adapt to life in a wheelchair, which as you can imagine isn't easy physically or mentally, especially for an energetic, superfit young lawyer.
Evan is hot headed, fiercely loyal and at times, a bit daft! She runs into situations without thinking, but her honesty, bravery and never ending supply of sarcastic comments and funny quips help you to forgive her for them. Jesse is also amazingly sharp and strong willed and the fierce love they have for each other shines through without turning the whole book into a slushy romance novel.
This is the first of five Evan Delaney novels, the others being: Mission Canyon, Jericho Point, Crosscut and Kill chain. I had never heard of Meg Gardiner before, but the first three books were selling in my local Co-op for only £1.99 each - bargain! To be honest, as much as I enjoyed China Lake, I also think it is the worst out of the five. Meg Gardiner has quite a quick but detailed writing style and when there is a lot of action I found myself going over the text a few times to get it straight in my head. However, by the time I had finished the third book I was hooked and I even paid full price for the last one! (which I very rarely do!) What I really enjoy is the honesty of the characters. The danger and action may not be completely believable, I haven't read many books where it is, but the emotions and personalities are.
You do not necessarily need to read China Lake first, they are all great to read as stand alone novels, but reading them in sequence will give you better understanding of the characters in the later books.
Meg Gardiner lgrew up in Santa Barbara , graduated from Stanford Law and then lived in Los Angeles, where she practised law. She moved to the UK and lives in Surrey with her husband and children. She wrote China Lake in 2002. To get a better feel for her other novels you might find her website useful. Reading her witty Bio instantly makes me think of Evan! She also has a blog on the site which she updates often and she will always answer your posts (in my experience anyway!).
Although being not very well known, she definitely has a growing fan club and most of the reviews I have read give her top marks. More recently she has received a glowing recommendation from Stephen King, although their books are very different. I would liken her more to Sue Grafton and Harlan Coben.
The books are published by Hodder & Stoughton and the RRP is £6.99. If you can't get hold of copies of the books from the Co-op, I have seen them on Amazon and Ebay, where obviously the price can vary.