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Meg Gardiner introduced lawyer and fantasy writer Evan Delaney and her boyfriend Jesse in CHINA LAKE. I assumed that this amateur sleuth thriller (an uneasy combination) would be a standalone as the scenario and characters seemed to have somewhat limited scope for series development. It seems I was wrong.
Gardiner sets her novels in her native California, although she now lives in Surrey, UK, and her books were published in Britain some time before they started to appear in the US.
Jesse is a former athlete who is now in a wheelchair as a result of a terrible car crash which killed his friend. The driver was allegedly distracted by what a female passenger was doing to him at the time, and evaded arrest by skipping off to Mexico. At the start of this novel, Evan and Jesse find out that Franklin Brand is back in town, and they are keen to bring him to justice.
However, things aren't that simple and a rather melodramatic series of events ensues. In one of my favourite scenes in the book, Evan wakes up in Las Vegas with no idea how she got there.
I find it quite challenging to review a book this weird. I didn't hate it, actually I found it an enjoyable read in a strange sort of way, but the plot was utterly preposterous. The religious cult of Gardiner's first novel is replaced by an assortment of sinister people linked to shadowy corporate interests. Evan finds relationships with various friends and relatives put to the test - not all of them pass.
There were a lot of scenes that were written to be exciting and frightening, but this was undermined by several aspects of the book. One was the sheer implausibility. Another is that Evan frequently thinks some very amusing things, but the humour comes through at inappropriate moments undermining the dramatic tension.
I sort of enjoyed this book, and would probably read another Meg Gardiner novel, but I'm not sure I could recommend it to anyone else. What I think she could do well is a real caper novel instead of this thriller interrupted.
This book has a cover price of £6.99 and it is currently available at Amazon for £5.49.
This review previously appeared under my real name at www.reviewingtheevidence.com.