Reviewed by Molly Martin
by Charles B Neff
Bennett & Hastings Publishing
Paperback: 214 pages, May 14, 2012, ISBN-13: 978-1934733752
Charles B Neff’s Dire Salvation begins at 5:52AM, day one mid-june 2011 as Calla Ogden ponders the after midnight telephone call regarding her younger, 23 year old half-brother Lonny. It was the police. Lonny was in custody and it was not the usual petty theft, occasional public drunkenness or other nuisance activity that included occasional drug usage that had brought Lonny to custody. This time he was being held for his possible involvement with a suspicious death.
Calla, 37 years old, half native American, half Czech, unmarried, social worker with county social services embarks on a rollercoaster of worry, duty to family and duty to job, forming a friendship with the new mayor and discovering that things are not always as they seem at first glance.
A 7:30 AM meeting with her lawyer Sonia D’Amico propelled Calla into her day, filled with her leading a hike for the local Native Plant Society, of which she was a member, and worry for her younger sibling who is forever marked by his mother’s alcohol use during her pregnancy.
At 6:30 am Greg Takarchuk, Ukrainian, is tapped by the chief of police for Swiftwater and Portal, Washington, to sit in on the preliminary investigation being conducted by the local Sheriff Department into the death Lonny Ogden may have caused.
Jason Ferris sat in front of his computer’s dual monitor display at 7:16 am, same day, he was assessing the streaming data appearing in the 4 split screens filling the two monitors. Jason learned as a child living with a heavy handed father to disappear within himself in a family dominated by brutality administered with a belt.
8:11 am Phil Bianchi, widowed, 52 years old, a journalist for many years; Phil had returned to Swiftwater to become the editor of the local paper 7 years ago. When his wife died just a year after his return to Swiftwater Phil was urged by friends to run for the office of Mayor. He won.
With the introduction to four of the main players in the tale; the reader is carried along on the journey each will make during the investigation into the death of a local, sometime drug user, male who worked at the Salmon fish hatchery run under the auspices of the Yakama Indian Tribe with support from the county, the state and the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The narrative moves to a road house, sheriff’s office, the local fish hatchery, and the town of Swiftwater and Portal. Writer Neff has crafted a somewhat meandering tale in which Phil Bianchi and Greg Takarchuck deal with their own personal angst while playing pivotal roles in the investigation. A well delineated timeline coupled with well plotted storyline peopled with notable characters serve to grasp reader interest and bring writer Neff’s mystery to life for the reader.
Characters are well fleshed, dialogue is credible and serves to focus storyline set against an evocative backdrop of small town intrigue arising in the Cascade Mountains. The mystery unfolds via Neff’s understanding of the area portrayed coupled with personal research. Neff draws upon a lifetime of experience having taught on the university level, served as administrator at four U.S. universities, led international development projects in Colombia and Russia to provide grist for his novels.
I like the practice used via labeling chapters with date and interspersing the hour during the time frame a particular anecdote, meeting, confrontation and the like take place. I find the technique not only furthers reader interest, but keeps the reader turning the pages to learn what is coming next. This particular tale elapses over a thirteen day period filled with action, some drama, human interaction, sound conversation between characters as well as even a little romance as characters find themselves drawn toward one another.
Neff’s north-west Washington setting is foreshadowed with the cover of the book. My army brat husband noticed the graphic used for the front cover and immediately pin pointed the work as one having to do with the area in which he lived during high school years as his military dad settled in the Washington area close to Fort Lewis ashis choice for retirement.
I found Dire Salvation to be an interesting, tale perfect for a hot summer day spent on the front porch sipping iced tea and reading a nifty tale woven with credible situations, persons, a little Yakama lore and a red herring or two to keep the reader on their toes and not be led astray.