Mystery Books for Sale

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by Thom Hartmann
Chicago Review Press, January 2015
224 pages
ISBN: 0897337492

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

There's a terrific nod to Henry David Thoreau running through this novel. P. I. Oakley Tyler has closed his detective office in Atlanta after the death of his partner (and fellow former CIA operative) and has retreated deep into the Vermont woods to an isolated cabin to live as simply as he can manage or imagine and gather his wits enough to determine what direction his future will take. The solitude and the empty space and time seem to be working in him when a local asks him to look into the possibility that a group of men is going to kill his grandson, a newspaper writer and environmental activist. Before Tyler can come to a decision, the old man is murdered in a hit-and-run, decidedly not accidental, and Tyler feels a vague sense of obligation to check on what little he was told. He comes across the grandson being tortured by two nasty guys and rescues him but the young man won't talk about what's going on and doesn't want any help.

Tyler is, of course, a mystery novel protagonist, so that just fuels his fire to sleuth some more. Quite unexpectedly there is the sudden appearance of a mysterious Indian woman who speaks strangely and seems intent on educating Tyler about how the created world works and how it ought to work. When she wishes, she appears unexpectedly and then disappears without leaving a trace of her presence or of her departure. This facet of DEATH IN THE PINES teeters dangerously close to a nave spiritualism that values animal life, well all life, over human life. Thom Hartmann handles this carefully and manages not to go so far as to turn his readers off, but one has to wonder whether this will become problematic if Oakley Tyler turns into a serial character. The biggest problem is probably that the series would appeal to too narrow an audience to gain much success.

On the other hand, what an accomplished writer Hartmann is! And this rather grizzled character he has come up with is about as ruggedly individualistic as any Vermonter could wish for. I have hopes that this will turn into a detective series and that Hartmann will find a way to channel the earth-loving spiritual influences into a long-running asset.

Diana Borse is retired from teaching English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and savoring the chance to read as much as she always wanted to.

Reviewed by Diana Borse, January 2015

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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