Friday, September 30, 2011

Review of REUNION by Carl Brookins

by Carl Brookins
Trade paperback, 8/31/11
Echelon Press, 268 pages
ISBN 9781590806685

Jack Marston's past includes a stint in the Navy as a NCIS investigator. Now living a more sedate life as the director of student services at City College in Minneapolis, Jack has no idea his former occupation will prove useful when he accompanies the woman he loves to her twentieth-year high school reunion in the Minnesota farming community of Riverview. But he soon learns that psychologist Lori Jacobs' hometown in no way resembles the idyllic rural locale he imagined. Deeply held secrets dominate life in this pastoral setting of white-painted farmhouses and lush fields of wheat. Backbiting gossip, sly innuendo, and downright hostility mark the opening festivities of the class of '89's reunion. Unsettling as they may be for Jack, these activities pale in comparison to the gruesome murder of one of Lori's classmates outside Georgiana's 40-Mile Club.

Elroy Guteman's death puts a damper on, but doesn't stop, the weekend celebration. While Sheriff Arnason investigates the crime, the remaining members of Lori's class continue their scheduled activities in and around town. Then another former graduate winds up dead, and Arnason enlists Jack as a second pair of eyes and ears within the reunion group. What Jack observes is often confusing to him, but having grown up in Riverview, Lori is able to supply answers for most of his questions. Some of those answers exact a toll on Lori; resurrecting old memories requires her to face long denied demons from her early life.

Working as a team, the pair gradually pieces together a stunning puzzle that links underhanded deals and long forgotten deaths not only with people from Lori's past, but also with present residents of Riverview. But obtaining final justice isn't easy for Jack and Lori. Death and danger dog their every footstep as they pursue truth in a town dedicated to preserving easy lies.

Carl Brookins presents readers with a complicated but logically constructed story in REUNION. Jack and Lori are fabulous characters with strong personalities that mesh nicely even under stress. Other characters are equally believable and well described, as is the rural setting of Riverview. The author displays a keen awareness of life in small communities, where relationships between neighbors are generally close, and gossip and secrecy often distort the truth of a situation. This awareness is complimented by Brookins' understanding of rural economic conditions where farmers are held hostage to both the weather and the whims of the futures market. By introducing a third complication into this mix -- namely the mortgage-and-loan business -- Brookins successfully engages readers in not one, but two distinct mysteries within a single story. The plot moves along at a nice pace and is complimented by dialogue that is natural and flows smoothly. I greatly enjoyed this book. My only criticism of it concerns the number of characters with similar sounding names. With a cast as large as the one in REUNION, it was easy at times to confuse one minor character with another when their names sounded so alike.


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