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by V.R. Barkowski
Five Star, June 2015
339 pages
ISBN: 143283018X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Dropping a reader into the middle of the action is a good hook. Dropping a reader into the middle of the ongoing lives of complicated characters with a lot of backstory without causing all kinds of confusion takes skill and planning. Luckily, VR Barkowski has a lot of skill both in writing and plotting.

A TWIST OF HATE introduces us to Del Miller, an ex-cop turned security consultant. Rich, handsome, and charming, Del spends almost as much time having sex as he does solving the case, but neither activity is as straightforward as it might seem. The case Del reluctantly finds himself in the middle of revolves around a Cezanne painting his grandfather sent to the U.S. with his infant son right before he was captured by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp to be killed. The infant son grows up to become Del's father Samuel who cherishes the painting beyond its monetary worth. When the painting is stolen and a museum director is found murdered in a compromising position, Del's family comes under investigation, and as family secrets are revealed, all signs seem to point to Samuel being the most likely suspect. The deeper Del digs into the ever-multiplying crimes, the more he finds out about his own family history with its complicated relationships and dark deeds. Meanwhile, Del also finds himself falling ever more deeply in love with Sophie, a longtime friend who also happens to be the ex-wife of Del's best friend Mike.

Complicated? Yes. And that is only the tip of the iceberg. Barkowski takes us through a dark tale of child abuse, long-nursed hatred, and revenge that stretches from Nazi-occupied France to present-day San Francisco and hints at unfollowed threads that add both intrigue and character depth. But with all its twists, turns, and surprises, the novel flows smoothly, and facts are introduced straightforwardly enough that it's easy to keep up with what's going on. By the end of the novel, almost everything is neatly tied up, but a particularly horrible crime that haunts Mike, Del, and Sophie is never fully explained, and the reader definitely gets the impression that this is a mere slice of these characters' lives and all will possibly appear in future novels as their stories develop.

Whether or not A TWIST OF HATE is the first in what is to become a series, it's a fun read in spite of its dark subject matter. More hard-boiled than cozy but not particularly bleak or hard-hitting, the novel is plot-driven enough to keep it moving quickly but also has enough character development to make it more than merely a page-turner. But the emphasis is definitely on plot, and the plot is a good one. Toward the end, explanations get a bit rushed, and the motivations aren't quite as believable and developed as they could be, but overall, it's a satisfying ending to a story with an interesting overall premise, and the implied promise that there will be more to come from these characters just makes it all that much better.

Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, July 2015

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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