Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Book Review: "Blood on the Snow" by S.M. Belser

Allow me a mea culpa in advance, for I am about to bend one of the "house rules" here and offer a review of what is really not an aviation-related book. (I say "bend" rather than "break", as there is an airplane in the book and it performs honorably!) And, to provide Full Disclosure: author S.M. Belser is the keeper of the blog N333C, (see the sidebar) wherein she occasionally posts about her adventures as curator of an old Stinson 108. I've not met Ms. Belser "in real life", but know her fairly well as an online presence and think of her as a friend[*].

So let me give you a two-sentence review:

Blood on the Snow is an enjoyable mystery novel. If you like the works of the late Robert B. Parker – especially his 'Sunny Randall' novels – I believe you will find this work very entertaining.
So, now you can leave if you like. Do go over to Amazon, spring for the $1.99 and download Blood on the Snow to your Kindle or tablet. But if you want to stay with me a bit longer, I'll share some more detail on why I liked the book.
Some authors, it seems to me, forget an important principle that applies to stories with strong central protagonists. That is, that the individual at the center of the tale has to be likable! I've read other independently published novels that were well written and cleverly plotted, but which dealt with an unpleasant main character. This makes it very hard to enjoy the book. (Note, please, that 'likable' is different from 'virtuous'. I actually found Hannibal Lecter to be rather likable.) In Blood on the Snow, Lena Smirnova is a thoroughly satisfactory central character.

Lena is a small-town attorney in independent private practice in the north central US just east of the Great Divide. There are mountains nearby, the winter is long and snow doesn't count unless it's measured in feet. She has some law enforcement experience on her CV and supplements her small town lawyering income with occasional investigations. She's smart and perceptive and persistent, and she moves comfortably through the independent and self-reliant ambiance of the American west. And she does not suffer fools gladly.

To move the plot along (and it moves quickly!) the author calls on Lena's skills as a pilot, a skilled user of firearms, and a former cop who hasn't forgotten anything. In this tale, a grieving couple engages her to look into the death of their son, classified as 'a hunting accident' by the authorities. They aren't buying it. Lena accepts the engagement, starts pulling on threads, and soon finds a much larger set of issues than one not-so-accidental shooting death. To the author's credit, Lena doesn't go into Superhero mode, but methodically involves some really competent law enforcement types, while staying involved to the climax of the case.

This is a well written book. The author has a great ear for the cadences of upper-midwest and mountain speech that gives authenticity to the dialog. Her exposition surrounding aviation, firearms, lawyering and police procedure is effortless and provides verisimilitude. I can vouch for the quality of the aviation stuff and so I trust her on the bullets and badges.

The characters in the 'supporting cast', both good guys and bad guys, are also well realized. Many of them are small-town salt-of-the-earth types, and the author's affection for them comes through clearly. She likes them so Lena likes them, and so, naturally, I liked them.

I mentioned above that I found this book reminiscent of Robert B. Parker's work. I've enjoyed his books for the competent plotting, the crisp dialog and the engaging characters. Blood on the Snow also has these virtues.

Let me say a word about editing. I'd estimate that there are perhaps half a dozen instances, scattered among 300 pages, where I said, "A good editor would've caught that." But on the other hand, I've read tomes that I'd paid $30 for, from major publishing houses, with much higher rates of editing fails. It's really, really hard to proofread and edit your own work, so the solitary independently publishing author is at a disadvantage. These few bumps detracted in no meaningful way from my enjoyment of the book.

I stayed up way too late last evening finishing Blood on the Snow. And I smiled when I noted that on the last page Ms. Belser set us up for a sequel. If Lena is coming back, I look forward to getting to know her better. I hope we don't have to wait too long.

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