Sunday, August 01, 2010
Book review: Maggie O'Dell is back in exciting 'Damaged'Innocence lost -- or never had
In her intriguing and sometimes gruesome eighth outing with Maggie O'Dell, Alex Kava sets up seemingly unrelated plot threads. While at first blush each tale seems separate, Kava quickly weaves these stories together into a cohesive, exciting plot.
"Damaged" works as a briskly-paced thriller that delivers several unusual twists. It focuses more on a high-concept plot with a strong sense of realism rather than deep character studies.
Maggie, a FBI special agent, and Charlie Wurth, the Department of Homeland Security's deputy director, are teamed up again, this time to investigate a number of stainless steel coolers containing body parts found floating in Florida's Pensacola Bay. Maggie's investigation includes partnering with the Coast Guard and especially Liz Bailey, the agency's rescue swimmer.
Florida's Panhandle also is the destination of Col. Benjamin Platt, investigating why a bacteria is killing soldiers recuperating from surgery. Meanwhile, a shadowy and sleazy man who calls himself a body-parts broker has arrived in Pensacola and is making friends with a financially-strapped funeral home director. All this is going on while the Panhandle prepares for a hurricane.
Kava keeps "Damaged" from falling under the weight of so many elements with her skillful storytelling.
Kava vividly illustrates the dangers facing the Coast Guard members each time they attempt a rescue at sea. Kava makes you feel as if you are being lowered on that rope onto a boat that's about ready to sink. Although they are brief, the scenes with the medical examiner and in the funeral home are not for the squeamish.
While a hurricane adds to the tension, Kava doesn't seem to know just how devastating a Category-4 storm can be for an area.
In the wake of the Gulf oil spill, "Damaged" has an unintentionally resonant title and still depicts a pristine paradise, but Kava shows there are many kinds of man-made disasters.
Patrick Thomas Casey's debut novel gives readers an intense look at the grieving process when unexpected death occurs.
In the overarching story, a Shenandoah Valley real estate developer, Robert Shelley, tries to make sense of his loss after his teenage son, Grant, is found killed in the woods.
The reader additionally shares in the grief of Evelyn, the young victim who is saved by Hayden, Grant's killer.
But the justice here is not easily dealt. With a single blast from a shotgun, Hayden's innocence is blown away, and lives are forever changed. Robert eventually pieces together the events of that fateful day and realizes that neither he nor his son is an innocent victim.
Throughout the novel are sections titled "Children of God" -- moving vignettes of lives in which innocence is lost in various ways. At first jarring in their independence from the main story line, they eventually make sense in that they provide readers with an honest and painful look at the human heart's ability to cope with tragedy and grief as well as its capacity for forgiveness.
Casey steps firmly into the ranks of Southern storytelling with lush descriptive prose and sinuous sentences. Overall, this is not a lighthearted story, and the desperate emotion of the characters will weigh upon you after you finish the book.