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by Timothy Williams
Soho, January 2015
336 pages
ISBN: 1616953853

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

A mystery set in a tropical paradise may seem to be a great escape for a reader who is suffering through the cold of winter. THE HONEST FOLK OF GUADELOUPE offers up some appealing characters, wonderful descriptions of idyllic beaches, and a complicated plot that unfortunately never really clearly resolves all the story lines.

Set in 1990, the book is the second in a series which features the French-Algerian Anne Marie Laveaud as our likeable heroine, a divorced mother of two. A racial hodge-podge, Guadeloupe is governed as part of France; there is also some kind of a provincial government as well. Frankly, I found myself getting lost in what the political entities were, and how they related to one another. There were also several different levels of investigative units, which were never fully explained. For example, Anne Marie is a judge, although her role seemed more investigative than judicial. A chart and a glossary of some of the French terms would have been helpful.

There is a wonderful sense of place here it is one of the strengths of the book. The descriptions of the beaches as well as the towns were very effective in painting a vivid picture of life in the tropics. And there is not only a strong description of the physical geography. Williams also does an excellent job conveying the racial prejudices, the stratified society, and the pressures to downplay crime in a community that is heavily dependent on tourism.

Another strength of the book was the portrayal of the main character, Anne Marie Laveaud, as she juggles the demands of her work, the political pressures she is under to "solve" the cases she is dealing with most expediently, and her personal issues of family and loneliness. She is smart, stubborn, principled, and vested with enough human frailties to make her someone with whom readers can easily identify. Some of the other characters would have benefitted with more definition.

The plot, alas, was not as carefully put together as it might have been. I don't want to give away any surprises however, there were such outlandish and unrealistic mistakes made in the investigation of one of the crimes that the ensuing plot twists and turns were simply not believable. The author might have been better off if he had decided to focus either on one death or the other. The reader was set up to expect a connection between the two deaths: a connection that was never established. There were also characters introduced into the drama that had little to do with moving the story forward. Lastly, there were too many story lines that were never resolved, leaving one wondering why they had been included in the first place.

The idea of reading this book on a warm beach somewhere might be appetizing as the author did create an interesting locale and a heroine that we could care about. Yet ultimately,the plot left me disappointed, with too many questions that should have been answered by the end of the tale.

Phyllis Onstad has been a writer, editor, civil servant, teacher and voracious reader. She currently lives in the California wine country.

Reviewed by Phylllis Onstad, February 2015

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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