Author: Joe Bright
Publisher: BeWrite Books
Grade: 14 and up (mild language, themes involving murder and rape)
First of all, let me just say that mystery is not my favorite genre, especially murder mysteries: I tend to find them dark, depressing, or gory. The Black Garden, however, is none of these things. Author, Joe Bright, has done an expert job of weaving a realistic story with heavy themes and rife with tragedy, yet which still leaves you with a light feeling, and the hope that there is true goodness in mankind.
In The Black Garden university student and aspiring writer, Mitchell Sanders, accepts a job in a small Vermont town. His plan is to spend his days doing the work he was hired for—cleaning years of junk from an old Victorian house—and use his free time to finish his masterpiece of a novel. Leaving behind an ex-fiancé, and the drama he left to escape, he looks forward to the peace and uncomplicated friendliness of small town life.
However, this dream doesn’t last long. As he gets to know his employer, the ornery George O’Brien, and George’s granddaughter, the beautiful but reclusive, Candice; he finds himself pulled into the mystery which surrounds their lives. Why does the whole town seem to despise them? Why do they never leave the house or have any interaction with other people?
Mitch’s lifelong resolve to stay uninvolved and avoid conflict is compromised as he learns more about the O’Brien’s, and is able to see beyond George’s crusty exterior, and Candice’s aloof façade. As he begins to let them into his heart, he finds himself desiring to change their lives for the better. Yet this is harder than he had anticipated, since George has done such a good job of alienating everyone, so:
“I did what any unethical, good-intentioned man would have done: I lied.”His efforts begin to pay off, but as his work on the house continues, events from the past are stirred up, and Mitchell finds the indirect effects of his actions threatening the happiness of the very people he is trying to help.
Joe Bright has managed to perfectly blend a large variety of elements to produce a very satisfying read: The dialog is witty and crisp, flowing effortlessly. The prose is beautiful and descriptive, and yet non-effusive; each word obviously carefully chosen. The characters are well developed, and lovable, even with their glaring faults. Humor is a major player in the novel: from joking between characters, to laugh-out-loud hilarious events.
“He didn’t do anything but laugh, but George adored him. I think if George could have traded me for Quinn, he’d have done it without a second thought. They say imitation is the truest compliment. Well, I think laughing at someone’s odd sense of humor ranks right up there with it. I’d never seen George smirk so much or look so pleased with himself.”Another strong element is the author’s insight into human nature and the psychological motivations behind actions. Along with ethical dilemmas which challenge the characters' views of right and wrong, good and bad, and true justice.
The setting is very strong. I felt myself transported to the late 50’s as I read - among the poodle skirts, corner diners, and red thunderbirds. It is obvious that research has gone into producing this accuracy, but beyond this the author has managed to capture the feel of the time period.
And, of course, we can’t forget the tender blossoming of young love:
“We: the word hung in the air like a note composed by Mozart, a note so perfect that it brought the whole world into harmony.”I would recommend this book to mystery lovers and skeptics alike. It truly has something for everyone, universal appeal. I will definitely be watching for more of Joe Bright.
Read an excerpt of the book at the author's website: www.joebrightbooks.com ,but be careful, it will leave you wanting more.
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