Once again: striking covers are not usually noted in the context of a review because, let’s face it, cover art may sell a book; but it’s usually all too lacking in an e-book production. Not so with A.J. Harris, whose simple two-word title is enhanced by a vivid cover portraying a church in the background, a beautiful woman’s sideways look at the camera, and what looks to be a priest carrying a cross in one hand while his head is buried in the palm of the other.
Add vivid colors, sharp presentation, and the ability to provide an uncluttered image supporting just two words of the title and you already have a draw. Now, for the meat of the matter: the story and its presentation.
Set in 1951 California, Revenge Revancha is about wealth, a Mexican-style adobe mansion overseen by a middle-aged Mexican matron, a series of murders surrounding famous artworks, and a ward who is fingered as prime suspect.
If it sounds like there are so many characters that the story line could become confusing, that is not actually the case, here. Where other authors might fail, A.J. Harris succeeds in deftly creating portraits of each character’s unique attributes which makes them memorable and sets them apart from one another.
One way this is done is by creating atmosphere, which is just one of the methods Harris uses to enhance scenes and action: “Rabino’s home took on the welcoming warmth of the Friday evening Sabbath with the fragrances of freshly-baked challah, chicken soup and beef brisket. The dining room table was decorated with Rachel Rabino’s Belgian linen, fine silverware, and English china reserved for the once-a-week dinner. A pair of polished brass candlesticks that had been in the Rabino family for over a century awaited Rachel’s lighting after she put on her prayer shawl.”
It should be noted that this kind of description is exactly where many murder mysteries fail; but it’s the very act of creating ambiance that lends the characters three dimensions instead of two and reinforces not only surroundings, but motivations and backgrounds.
As for the murder itself, it moves from a singular event to one which embraces the incentives of an assassin, the compromises of a seasoned detective who finds himself falling in love with a possible perp, and the complications of romance which rears its not-so-ugly head even in the face of life-threatening danger.
There’s also much history involved as part of this background build-up: California, Spain, the Spanish Civil War, and the protagonists’ heritage. Once again: key to recalling events (and making sense of them) is the story’s sense of place and history. Harris takes the time to build up both where others would gloss over with a few hasty paragraphs on the way to focusing on the mystery piece – and this results in a satisfying depth and involvement on the reader’s part as events slowly come to make sense against the backdrop of past, present, and future.
As family connections as well as background are explored, readers are treated to characters that come alive – including their motivations for making and keeping secrets: “Gruenwald continued, “The colonel confided in me alone; he trusted no one else. His secrets weigh heavy on my heart. He made me take an oath of silence, but now that he’s gone, I can tell you his sordid secrets.”
At some places romance seems the last thing that will come to fruition as scenarios of death emerge and winding puzzles come undone with some unexpected revelations.
Without imparting spoilers, suffice it to say that in the end, nobody is safe from being considered a suspect; and the real murderer’s motivations and identity will change worlds.
Revenge Revancha is the kind of murder mystery that stands out from typical genre approaches. It takes the time to build mood, character, and background, it pops attention with a colorful, eye-catching cover that wastes nothing in its attention to detail, and it provides a fast-paced plot that sends strings of intrigue in all directions, then deftly reels them in.
In conclusion, it’s the perfect murder mystery for those who appreciate depth and intrigue over easier ‘whodunnits’ holding one-dimensional characters and settings.
Diane Donovan, Author, Reviewer
San Francisco Relocated