1 April 2019 – I typically pick as a subject for my weekly post some topic of general interest, such as politics or the interaction between technology and society (which is actually the avowed focus of this blog). This week, however, I’ve decided to look at something else that commands an inordinate share of my mental attention: fictional literature. Specifically, a mystery novel I just read entitled Restorations by Charles Strickler.
To be honest, novels aren’t that far afield for this blog. This space’s avowed focus is, as I said above, the interaction between technology and society. Novels, being works of fiction, provide one of the most fertile fields for exploring abstract ideas like the interaction between technology and society. Actually, the most fertile field for exploring that topic is the narrow genre of grounded (or “hard”) science fiction mystery writing. It allows the writer the widest scope for evoking the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief while exploring how evolving technology interacts with existing social mores.
That’s not exactly the genre of the particular novel I’ve just finished reading, however. Restorations is more like a conventional mystery story. Unlike a typical grounded-science-fiction mystery, in which the action generally inhabits the temporal space extending from the present through the near future, Restorations inhabits the temporal space from the historically recent past through the present. Specifically, the novel’s plot is driven by one man’s efforts to unearth the story of one artifact (a 1928 Stutz Black-Hawk Boattail Roadster) and how those efforts embroil him in the fate of a modern-day crime family.
The title takes the plural form because the author interweaves multiple stories of restoration into his narrative. There is, of course, the physical restoration of the Stutz sports car his protagonist (Miles West) almost accidentally acquires at an estate auction. On a more symbolic level, however, there is the restoration of West’s joie de vivre, which took a nosedive after a series of personal disasters spiraled him into the depths of depression. A third restoraton story is that of the fractured Bello family, one half devoted to organized crime while the other half is devoted to philanthropy and civic order. Finally, there is restoration of the treasure amassed by the car’s first owner, the notorious bandit “Lefty” Webber, to the heirs of the people he robbed. There are additional restorations chronicled – more than the four the author promises on his website – but I’m going to leave them for you to discover by reading the book.
I must, however, mention the restoration story of West’s love interest, Bramley Ann Fairchild, whose love of historical investigation had been submerged in the day-to-day tedium of an underling in a large auction house. A tedium that was spectacularly relieved by the danger of competing with the Bello Crime Family in a transcontinental race to secure Webber’s long hidden treasure, the clues to which were hidden in secret compartments a custom coach builder had incorporated into the Stutz’ body work.
One negative note, however: I too often found myself thinking, “Oh no. Don’t drag out that old chestnut!” when one of Strickler’s descriptions or plot devices looked oh-so-familiar from previous literature. I generally want to be wowed by greater creativity from a mystery author.
But, then again, I’ve always said: “My best ideas are stolen!”
Someone once asked if that meant “My best ideas were stolen by someone else, or that I had stolen them from someone else?”
I simply answered: “Yes.”
I also detected several minor editing gaffes: places where clumsy or inaccurate wording got into print, or just out-and-out typos. Again, I should be careful about making that criticism. Every time I re-read one of my own previously published novels, I’m embarrassed to find similar mistakes that made it into print.
Altogether, Restorations is a well-written novel with compelling characters, a plot sufficiently complex to induce page turning, and lots of clear description to keep it all interesting. Unlike most of the first-time novels I get to read, Strickler’s prose is clear, unambiguous and largely hangs together logically.
I’d like to see him expand on some of the episodes that make up the plot, but there’s nothing actually missing from his narrative, just some turns down dark alleys that left me wondering what he might have found at the other end, even if it made no difference to the story.
Perhaps he’ll choose to follow such leads more in his next “Miles and Bramley” mystery! He and the book’s publisher, Koehler Books, promises that Restorations is but the first book in a series. I look forward to reading the next!