Do you want me to try for a synopsis here, or should I just cut right to my complaints? Maybe I should just list the problems since the plot was so screwy anyway. I’m still trying to make some kind of sense of it.
The story begins with Federal Special Agent Dillon Savich and his team about to apprehend Tommy and Timmy/Tammy Tuttle who regularly kidnap, mutilate, and murder young boys. As Savich waits for his team to move in, he witnesses the Tuttles call on the Ghouls, dual spinning tornadoes of light that apparently are the entities responsible for the carnage. Savich kills Tommy and wounds Timmy/Tammy (if you’re confused about this, I’ll explain in a moment). Just as the crime scene wraps up, Savich gets a call: his sister, Lily Frasier, has tried to commit suicide (again) by running her Explorer into a redwood tree. Come quick.
Savich and his wife Sherlock (you heard me correctly), who is also a Special Agent and who works in the field with her husband, fly to Eureka, California. Lily lives in nearby Hemlock Bay. Lily’s little girl was killed in a hit-and-run accident seven months earlier, and this is Lily’s second try at ending her life. Or is it? Lily’s husband, Dr. Tennyson Frasier, a psychiatrist, has had her under medication for depression and can’t understand why she is still so despondent. Or can he?
The remainder of the story deals with Savich and Sherlock’s efforts to recapture Timmy/Tammy before the Ghouls can strike again, and with Lily’s efforts to find out what really happened to her, since she doesn’t believe she tried to commit suicide. Art expert Simon Russo, a friend of Savich’s, is brought in to authenticate some valuable artwork, and finds himself attracted to Lily. But don’t worry, this isn’t a romance, so nothing happens worth mentioning. Not a thing.
Timmy/Tammy is apparently capable of making people see whatever he/she wants them to see. She started life as Tammy, but when she gets horny, in order to justify her lust for women, she turns into Timmy. That fact, and the Ghouls, should have earned this fiction book a paranormal label, but I guess the author was trying for a little X-Files thing here. Well, it sure didn’t work for me.
Savich and Sherlock (did I mention how much I hated this name?), and Lily and Simon are the protagonist/hero/heroine sets, but I’ve seen more steam coming from my iron. Oh, and Savich has a laptop computer. He calls it MAX (or MAXINE if it’s being fussy). Me, I call my laptop, uh, my laptop. Since MAX has no vocal skills, nor does it generate code on it’s own, I can only assume this is some plot device created in an earlier book since no explanation is given as to why Savich would refer to his computer in a personal way. When I first encountered this, my give-me-a-break factor hit a high.
The plot itself might not have been all that bad except for the ridiculous characterizations, bland writing, and complete disregard for logic.
Hemlock Bay is one of a number of sequels in this author’s series of FBI thrillers. I don’t know in which book Savich and Sherlock were introduced, but if you didn’t read it, you won’t have a clue to this couple. You won’t know how they got together, what they look like (this book never describes them except for Sherlock’s blue eyes), or anything about them, including why the FBI would let a married couple (with a baby!) work together as field operatives. And speaking of the child, the first mention of him is made thus: “Savich and Sherlock played with Sean for so long that evening that he finally fell asleep in the middle of his favorite finger game, Hide the Camel . . . .” I thought this was some kind of perverted sex game until I read further and disovered Sean was their son. I had no idea they had a child until that sentence popped up.
Another totally bizarre element is Lily’s wreck and recovery. She was in an accident where she was severely injured (her car ploughed head-on into a giant redwood (if her airbag inflated, the book does not mention it)). Her spleen had to be removed. There are two types of surgery for this (I won’t bore you with the details), but the recovery time varies from three weeks to three months, depending on which procedure (simple or radical) is used. However, within six days, our Lily is home from the hospital with only some discomfort. In a hurry, she runs to the bus stop where she hops on board, is accosted by a knife-wielding murderer, and, using the self-defense techniques her Fed brother taught her, beats this guy up and puts him in the hospital. She thinks she might have pulled a stitch in the process! To say I was stunned when I read this is an understatement.
Lily’s daughter, Beth, may or may not have been murdered. We find out that Beth inadvertenly saw some incriminating emails and seemed stressed afterward. However, since this child was barely six years of age (and not yet in kindergarten), if she saw them, the likelihood she would have read and understood them is remote unless they said something like: See the killers. The killers want to murder Mommy. See Spot bark. Spot is barking at the killers. Run Spot run. Run and get FBI Special Agent Dillon Savich. Bang. Bang. Oh. Oh. Good-bye Spot.
A premise is put forth that most of the world’s great paintings are forgeries. That the artwork we see in on exhibit are fakes and only 10% are original works of art, the other 90% having been skillfully removed to private collections over the years. A character in Hemlock Bay claims to have gently and with no small amount of difficulty removed Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Are the majority of artworks on display fakes? I have no way of knowing. But I have been to Amsterdam. I have been to the Rijksmuseum . I have seen “Night Watch.” Readers are asked to believe that the original of this painting (which measures 12′ x 14′) is mounted over a Swedish playboy’s bed on his yacht? Paintings in museums are kept at very specific temperatures to avoid damage, yet this priceless work of art supposedly does not even hang in a vault, but is on some guy’s boat, on salt water, in sub-freezing air temperatures? This is one of the most ludicrous things I’ve ever read.
The book trudges on. Lily and Simon’s plot involves the fact that Lily’s grandmother was A Very Famous Artist (she drank and did drugs and was sexually free with the Picasso, Monet, and Hemingway crowd) and her paintings are now worth millions of dollars each. Would somebody kill Lily for those paintings? The villain wants something from her that borders on medieval melodrama.
Simon’s ex-wife used to be a secretary and now she is the “most beautiful” 2-star general in Washington. Pardon me while I laugh my socks off. Loose ends in this book are not tied off. What ultimately happened to Tennyson? What happened to the Frasiers? What happened to Marilyn Warluski and the Ghouls? The ending of this book is abrupt and unsatisfying, the characters behave stupidly, their dialogue is trite. Judging from the ending, a sequel is most definitely in the works, but you will not see me standing in line to read it.