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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Two by Kate Wilhelm

The Deepest Water by Kate Wilhelm. New York: St. Martin's Minotaur, 2000. ISBN: 0-312-26143-8

The Price of Silence by Kate Wilhelm. Ontario, Canada: Mira, 2005. ISBN: 0-7783-2216-5

It's been a long time since I read anything by Kate Wilhelm. I read her science fiction years ago, including her classic Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, which I probably ought to read again, since I have no direct recollection any more of what it was about, just that it was good, VERY good.

I do recall that she was definitely on my mental favorite authors list, even back then. In later years she seemed to abandon the science fiction genre, and wrote mainstream fiction, mysteries, suspense, and other crossover genres. And so, like I said, I didn't read her.

When I was down in the stacks at the state library, looking for the books on the Washington Reads list of mysteries set in Washington, other books on the shelves nearby naturally caught my attention, and there were several by Kate. So eventually I couldn't resist, and picked a couple of them off the shelf.

She's just as good as I remember. Characters and story lines that draw you right in, and make you want to keep reading. People you care about almost immediately. To me, that's a big part of what makes a satisfying read. I don't want to just be entertained with clever plot twists, or lots of action and suspense. These books both have suspense a plenty, but it builds slowly over the entire course of the book. And in the meantime, you're enjoying your time spent with these people, and are disappointed when the book comes to an end.

Both of these are set in Oregon. The Price of Silence is set in the, I assume, fictional town of Brindle, located on the east side of the mountains, not too far from Bend. Our main character is a young newswoman who takes a job running the local newspaper there. She forms an alliance with the newspaper's owner, an elderly woman, and together they work to uncover the sordid past and present in the town. Turns out someone has, for years, been kidnapping young, blond, barely pubescent girls, but no one has ever linked the widely separated disappearances until now.

The Deepest Water involves another youngish woman whose novelist father lives in a remote cabin, on a lake, once again on the eastern side of the mountains, but still in them. When he is murdered, the mystery is how anyone could have gotten in and out, since the normal way in is by boat, and the neighbors dogs didn't bark, which they normally would have.

These brief plot synopses really beg the point, as they don't get even close to the essence of these books. Abby, whose father was killed, is almost debilitated by his death. She retreats into a private space in which no one, not even her husband, can seem to penetrate. Only as she begins to go through his notes, unfinished writings, bits of stories, and an unfinished novel, do things begin to make sense to her.

Her father writes people he observes into his stories, but in such a way that most folks never notice, and certainly never recognize themselves. But once on to it, Abby and a couple of close women friends, one of them her father's latest lover, begin to decipher clues. It turns out that her father had a life-shattering experience in Vietnam as a young man, of which she previously knew nothing, and that this has had a profound effect on his later life and his writing.

Eventually Abby's closest friends, and even she herself, figure out who the killer must be, and now he is returning for her. The suspense builds to an almost unbearable level as we wait with her in the lonely cabin by the lake.

Both of these books are highly recommended, especially for mystery readers, but for the general reader as well. If you love stories with characters you can warm up to, people you enjoy knowing, and getting to know as you read, plus the added frisson of real danger and suspense, these books are definitely a must read! I'm looking forward to reading more of the many novels Kate Wilhelm has written in the years I've been ignoring her.

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