True Believers by Michael Blair, Linda Leith Publishing
True Believers is Michael Blair’s sixth mystery novel and the author’s experience oozes through the narrative. Add the fact that he mixed science fiction, an old interest of his, with the sleuthing and we have a refreshingly original mystery novel.
Set in the picturesque town of Burlington, Vermont, with a bit of Canadian flavour, the narrative follows not-so-successful private detective Hack Loomis and his beautiful sidekick Connie Noble, who just happen to be recent lovers, as they are jolted into action when Connie expresses concern about the disappearance of her friend Belle at about the same time the police seek their help in identifying the body of a young woman found in Lake Champlain. Dismissing any possible coincidence–Hack doesn’t like coincidences–their initial investigation of Belle’s whereabouts is fraught with dead ends. Independent Belle could just have gone on one of her jaunts without telling anyone. The pair makes up for the initial lack of credible leads with good sex. Finally they uncover an odd detail that leads into the suspicious workings of a UFO organization that is getting ready to send its first batch of refugees to the constellation of Centaurus. Why would well-grounded, conservative Belle want to associate with such a group? They are intrigued and so is the reader. The mystery unravels in action-packed scenes and just enough violence for a dignified whodunit. The conclusion is unexpected on several levels.
Who are the cons and who are the conned, the True Believers? Why not use a mystery novel to broach a deeper subject such as belief. Blair manages to sneak in a low dose of philosophy: “Something like 60% of Americans believe in angels, astrology and that reality TV is real, but you could walk right past any one of them on the street without realizing it,” as it is for the ordinary people in the novel who became “true believers.” Hack points out that “believing, or not believing, doesn’t make it so.”
The cast of characters is rich, in number and colour, from all walks of life, and all are credible, from the crusty, analytical, takes-no-punches but sensitive modern day protagonist and his clichéd beautiful and resourceful assistant right down to a neighbour with Alzheimer’s. They all add texture to the reader’s inquiring mind. Misled by the numerous suggestions of possibilities and probabilities, we just have to keep reading.
Blair is a champion of details. Every word is smooth, unencumbered and attaches itself to the character naturally. Blair shares his knowledge without lectures. By surrounding his colourful characters with everyday chatter and seemingly mundane details, he weaves a tight story from which emerges the pathos between the gullible and their swindlers.
The protagonists’ continuous wrestling with the lack of substantive connections could bore to death, but Blair’s mastery in letting the details flow at just the right moment kept the pages turning. Blair has undeniable talent.
Francine Diot has always had an obsession for literature. Since completing an MA in French studies, she has focused on writing fiction. She is currently working on an historical novel.
– Photo: Scott McCracken, FLickr Creative Commons