27 November 2006

More mystery from northern Wyoming

Margaret Coel has written several entertaining mysteries set in northern Wyoming, not far from Saddlestring in Twelve Sleep County" that C. J. Box writes about. The proximity of the two settings makes me wonder whether the University of Wyoming sponsored a very successful writing school in that northern part of the state.

I've often felt that Coel had to resort to credibility-stretching plot devices to get her main character, Father John O'Malley, involved in resolving murder investigations that the state, local, and reservation police were conducting. A recovering alcoholic Jesuit from Boston who is serving a poor missionary parish on a poor Wyoming reservation is not in the middle of many crime waves. And most murders are crimes of passion committed by among friends or within families. Since there aren't that many murders in the sparsely populated counties of northern Wyoming, some manipulations are necessary to create murders that involve a mission priest.

I haven't read one of Coel's books for a couple of years, but my impression is that Father O'Malley and the people around him did things that were a bit unbelievable. But, it's fiction, not reality, I keep reminding myself. These stories can be thought of as puzzles to be figured out before the end of the book.

All of this is introduction to The Eye of the Wolf, a Margaret Coel book I read over Thanksgiving weekend. There were fewer unbelievable plot twists in this one than I expected, and there were more reasonable "hooks" to draw Father O'Malley into contact with the people involved in the events "retold" here. I didn't shudder and say to myself, "Oh, no, that would never happen!"

The story is well-told. I didn't get bored waiting for events to unfold and I didn't get lost because Coel skipped essential details. The book was great entertainment for those quiet times in a weekend of overeating and family togetherness.

For some reason, I kept imagining that most of the story was set at night, when in fact, most of it occurred in daylight. That could have been because of my lack of imagination. The other thing that slapped me in the face about Coel's writing was that she rammed forceful verbs into sentences. Many times, the action-packed verbs were marvelously inappropriate (I write with intended irony). I don't slam my car door every time I close it. I don't thrust my hands in my pockets every time I search for my keys. The characters in The Eye of the Wolf seem to (although they may just have done it more often than I would have).

I was really disappointed with the resolution. After offering a couple obvious explanations and many "clues" for four murders and an attempt of the life of Father O'Malley, Coel explains the events with the equivalent of a curve ball that seemed to come out of left field. Oh, well, the story was entertaining and it helped me enjoy a fine 5-day weekend that involved over 1,100 miles of driving.

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