Skip Maloney's Reviews > Lowcountry Bribe

Lowcountry Bribe by C. Hope Clark
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Jun 23, 2012

it was amazing

First person narration is tricky business. To begin with, you forfeit the ability to view actions from multiple points of view. You cannot, for example, write about a lurking intruder, hidden behind the drapes, if your narrator doesn't know he (or she) is there, so you don't get to apply that sort of impending disaster feel to a scene. Many authors opt to italicize the script of scenes at which their first-person narrator is not present. Some don't even bother, switching between third person and first person narration without blinking an eye; hedging their multiple-points-of-view bets, as it were.
The other, arguably more significant issue with first-person narration is the necessity for a fully-realized character, with which a reading audience really wants to spend time. Readers have to like a first-person narrator right from the start. They can withhold judgement on third-person characters, because it will take a while for them to sort out who's who, what's what, and where their loyalties are going to be placed. You have to hit the ground running with characters talking right at you, employing the "I" pronoun every minute or so.
All this by way of explaining that a new character on the scene - one Carolina Slade, appearing in her debut novel, Lowcountry Bribe, by C. Hope Clark - is just such a fully realized character and from her opening sentence - "O-positive primer wasn't quite the color I had in mind for the small office, but Lucas Sherwood hadn't given the decor a second thought when he blew out the left side of his head with a .45." - it is very clear that you're in for a ride, and you better buckle up.
The genre is mystery, although at first glance, you find yourself wondering how a County Manager for the US Department of Agriculture qualifies as any sort of first-person narrator for such a thing. She's not a detective, by any means. She's not a bounty hunter and she isn't a crook. The first inkling you get that there is, as they say, "something rotten in Denmark" (Charleston County, SC actually) is, of course, the above-mentioned Lucas Sherwood's suicide. But that's over and done, and then, before you're even out of Chapter 1, a hog farmer offers her the titled lowcountry bribe. Even then, you might think, what's the big deal? Lady bean counter picks up the phone, reports the bribe, someone comes down on the farmer like a ton of bricks and you're back home in time for the 11 o'clock news.
You find soon enough that it isn't going to be that simple. And it isn't until the closing pages, that you learn everything about those opening chapter, seemingly unconnected events. Like most good mysteries, a good deal of what's about to unfold is the result of events that have occurred before the opening sentence. The characters become involved in the consequences, and it's up to those characters (and us, dear readers) to try and figure it all out before someone gets killed. Oftentimes (think Agatha Christie), someone does. In Lowcountry Bribe, it's more about the possibility of murder, and the almost daily threat of it that drops into Carolina Slade's life like a monster-in-law with three suitcases.
Author Clark puts pedal to the metal and keeps things moving at a steady clip. Before you're out of that first chapter, you're attuned to a lot of her sensibilities about everything from interoffice politics, questionable fashion, and the romantic inclinations of an aromatic hog farmer, who seems intent on directing conversation in directions other than the terms of his farm loan. You get to like her. You begin to trust her instincts; sharing some of them. But above all, you start listening intently, and if you pick this novel up for the first time just after dinner, you're likely to find yourself staying up way past your bedtime to find out what's going to happen next.
Clark brings 25 years of experience with the US Department of Agriculture to bear on the character of Carolina Slade, and the 'ins and outs' of USDA business. Slade's 'voice' is assured, which helps a lot, but beyond that, there is, too, a strong sense of separation. Knowing Clark personally, having met her, I didn't get the sense that she tried to put herself into the story. What she did was create a unique character, who happens to share selected aspects of her own personal history, but is, in every way, her own woman. Not easy to do, especially when first-person narration is selected. It requires diligence to keep your 'self' out of the way.
As that guy from the Gentleman's Warehouse says in his television commercials (paraphrasing), "You're gonna like (Slade), I guarantee it." And if you discover the same sense of camaraderie that I did, you'll be tapping your foot, awaiting publication of Book Two in the Carolina Slade mystery series.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
June 21, 2012 – Finished Reading
June 23, 2012 – Shelved

Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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message 1: by C. (new) - rated it 5 stars

C. Clark Oh wow, Skip. Such a remarkable review. Just stunning, and I'm honored.

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