At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Reading Reflections, March 30

We see people making shifts in emphasis all the time. I remember when Liam Neeson plodded through his exceptional roles in dramas like Schindler's List and Michael Collins, as well as master Jedi Qui-Gon Jin in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. Lately though, Neeson has been trying his hand at the suspense/thriller genre and--given the success of Taken, Taken 2, and Unknown--his lateral move seems to have paid off.

For authors, shifts in genre can be calculated risks, and when an writer moves from one stream to another, one cannot tell how the reading populace will follow. However, L.B. Graham shows us in his crime fiction debut of Avalon Falls (Not Yet Books, 2012) that what is of essence is this: If you build a story, they will come.

Graham is more well-known for his fantasy novels. His five-part Binding of the Blade series (published by Presbyterian & Reformed) was a highlight of the Christian fantasy market during the last decade, drawing readers into the broken, warring, and then restored world of Kirthanin. He is returning again to fantasy later this year with the start of his The Wandering series, beginning with The Darker Road (AMG Publishers). But let not the reader be mistaken: Avalon Falls is a great story in its own right, because Graham knows that the proof of the story is in the telling.

Avalon Falls draws readers into the life of Jimmy Wyatt, a former FBI profiler who is running from his personal demons from days gone by. Leaving behind his career and home in Chicago, he drives cross-country, eventually settling down in the Rocky Mountain-nestled burg of Avalon Falls, Montana. Landing a job at the local lumber mill, he finds quiet but no peace, plenty of townsfolk but no friends. This is not due to the people of Avalon Falls, but to his reticence to draw any closer. Slowly, however, he gets to know a select few individuals, namely Eddie Carlson, who runs a prison alternative program, and Alice Miller, the waitress at Cabot's Restaurant.

The calm of Avalon Falls, however, is shattered by a vicious murder. Jimmy is called onto the case on a consultative basis by the local police. He puts his profiling acumen to the evidence available but little about the murder makes sense. Along the way, Jimmy increasingly comes face-to-face with his own past, minimally acknowledging his former wounds to Eddie but little else. When a second murder shocks the community, Jimmy follows the clues to a conclusion that baffles and buffets all sense.

The subtitle of Avalon Falls is "You Can't Run From Yourself", and while Jimmy Wyatt intends to make sure the perpetrator can't run from his guilt, in truth Jimmy discovers he can't outrun his past. Graham is able to intertwine these two threads in a way that draws the reader into the story, yet he never sacrifices one at the expense of the other. Graham's writing is well-paced. He doesn't have an overload of characters and this turns out to be a strength, as Graham keeps the major players of the novel colored with bold, memorable strokes. Interestingly enough, although the book is complete in itself, there is enough to leave the reader hanging at the end. There is much to suggest that a sequel could be birthed from this tale and, with enough details dropped about Jimmy Wyatt's past life, a prequel would be a most interesting idea, too.

In the end, readers should make it a point to work their way through a copy of Avalon Falls. One can't help but realize he will have sailed through the seas--not only of a good tale--but through the hallmarks and depths of human nature, as well.

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