Saturday, April 23, 2016

Crying From the Dust: Joann Arnold's "The Buckskin Trail" blog tour

I was lucky enough to nab a spot on this tour and you should be happy to hear that I have a couple more in the works.  (Lauren Skidmore sent me a copy of her new book and a request for a review, for example.)  Today, we'll be looking at something that reminded me both of Jodi Picoult's family dramas and Dan Brown's pseudo-archaeological thrillers.

I love authors who delve into different cultures and as someone who has enough Native American ancestors that I'm still registered as a member of a tribe, I looked forward to reading what I described as "DaVinci Code with Cherokees and Mormon references instead of symbologists and Catholic apocrypha."

The book had a fascinating premise--Kelzi Tsali, who begins the book as a terrified child and ends the book as a fearless lawyer, is entrusted with a centuries-old deed to land that proves her tribe's claim to land.  Naturally there are secret combinations out there (told you there were Mormon references) trying to keep the document from coming to light so the greedy men can essentially build strip malls and housing developments.

Here are the only things I had problems with:  I found myself uncertain at the end of the book what I really felt about it.  The main reason for this is that it switches genres on you.  It's like reading a book where John Grisham got co-authors who loved the plot, but didn't agree on which section of the bookstore it should be sold in.  I found a lot of intrigue and suspense for the first half of the book, but then two love stories became the focus of the book instead.  Yes, she came back to the suspenseful plot, but it had to be wedged into the last few chapters instead of building up naturally.  I knowwell as a disability case manager and as much as anyone who has had to witness court proceedings that certain phases of a suit have to proceed quickly while others are pain-staking.  I've sat in on court sessions ranging from preliminary hearings to sentencings for the interpreter program and I would have liked to see this be threaded more naturally throughout the book.

Leaving behind this genre ambiguity and pacing issue, I didn't find a single character I disliked.  The family dynamics for Kelzi led to an emotional and effective ending.  There is a Scottish character whose role I will not give away here, but he was absolutely hilarious.  When scare tactics lead to one character building an insanity plea for crimes committed, it's a natural by-product of what they've put the poor idiot through.

Whenever I read The DaVinci Code or watch an Indiana Jones movie, I have to turn off the part of my brain that disbelieves that symbologists stop terrorists attack or that archaeology professors can always foil Hitler's relic-happy goons because I enjoy the journey through the plot.  I made the mistake of reading The Last Tsar just before I saw Anastasia and spent the entire movie analyzing the historical flaws, but eventually learned to take it as nice fiction with a good soundtrack.

In this same way, this is a book best read if you leave all of the analysis and mystery-solving to the characters.  It's a hard thing to do for me, since I analyze every mystery so I won't be surprised by the ending.  But if you trust the author to give you the answers you need in the ending, you'll get through this just fine.