Thursday, June 15, 2006
Redding author's first novel is a page-turning murder mystery with a nice twist of ESP
By DAN BARNETT
High schooler Murray Kiefer and Sierra County sheriff's deputy Roman Gates, based out of Riverton, near Whiskeytown Lake, are both trying to solve the same murder. The two are not working together -- they don't even know each other -- but they are working in concert.
On Oct. 17, Nikki Parker, a 16-year-old cheerleader at Canyon High in Riverton, Murray's school, disappeared from the parking lot after practice. Weeks later there are still no clues to her whereabouts. For Gates, a gambling addict now in recovery, the answer must be out there if only a sufficient number of leads can be followed up. For Murray, outsider and son of a prostitute mother, his best leads come from the town cemetery. He is convinced he hears voices from the dearly departed and he considers himself a "friend to the deceased." But then he hears sobbing, something in his mind that sounds like "please help me." And therein lies the tale.
"Dead Connection" ($16.95 in hardcover from Roaring Brook Press) is Charlie Price's first novel, but you wouldn't know it. The Redding-based author writes with consummate skill, creating and interweaving the lives of multiple characters who are far from cardboard cutouts. Price is an organizational consultant and "executive coach"; he writes me that he spent 35 years in education and mental health. His wife, Joan Pechanec, is a psychotherapist with practices in Redding and Mount Shasta.
Price and fellow Redding novelist Steve Brewer ("Bank Job," "Boost") will do a mutual book signing at the Chico Barnes and Noble at 2 p.m. Saturday. The public is invited.
The book earned starred reviews in both Publishers Weekly and Booklist and has been nominated, he writes, for Best Book Young Adults and Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. (A word of caution: There are adult themes and some foul language.)
Murray is the emotional center of the book. A fixture at Forest Grove cemetery ("Don't call it a graveyard!") he hears the voices of "Dearly" (that would be "Dearly Beloved, Born 1944, Died 1969" in a car wreck), "Blessed," "Edwin" and more. They are his friends. "I don't spend much time with the older people," Murray tells us. "I figure they deserved it. Not deserved it, really, but what could they expect? After 40, you're going to die. The ones my age and the children, they almost all need someone to talk to. I comfort them the best I can. They weren't ready. ... Everybody needs a friend."
Enter ninth-grader Pearl (daughter of the kind cemetery caretaker Janochek), who at first sees Murray as some kind of weirdo but later makes alliance with him. Then there's 22-year-old Robert Barry Compton who can just barely hold a job. "His ears were red and pockmarked from several piercings, but he had lost his studs when he was picked up for disturbing the peace in Chico." He is now on strong meds and has trouble remembering. Yet there was something he saw the night of Oct. 17, something terribly important.
Vern Billup is a drunk given to blackouts. Public affairs officer for local law enforcement, Billup has it out for Murray ever since the kid walked in on him and Murray's mother at her home, where she entertained her "dates."
Plot surprises abound, "dead connection" takes on several meanings, and in the end hope visits the most unlikely of clients. I couldn't put it down.
Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.