Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Book review, "Sleeping with the Crawfish"

Writing a blog has led to some interesting experiences.  In the past, I’ve been invited to attend a local bloggers convention, asked to be a panelist at another, and receive numerous emails from public relations firms offering to set-up interviews with their clients.  I’ve corresponded with other bloggers, authors and professors over the years on a wide range of topics.  Now I’ve been approached to review a mystery novel.

The offer came at a good time.  My head hurts.  World events are making me more cynical about our President and his administration.  We are using our best weapons to take out a so-called threat to the US that only a few months ago, even the President was referring to as “a junior varsity” team.   Suddenly the junior varsity team is now the biggest threat to the United States.  Doing the review offered me a mental-health break.

The title of the book is “Sleeping with the Crawfish” by D.J. Donaldson.  Here is a synopsis of the plot from the publisher;

“Andy Broussard, the plump and proud New Orleans medical examiner, obviously loves food.  Less apparent to the casual observer is his hatred of murderers. Together with his gorgeous sidekick, psychologist Kit Franklyn, the two make a powerful, although improbable, mystery solving duo.

Strange lesions found in the brain of a dead man have forensic pathologist Broussard stumped.  Even more baffling are the corpse’s fingerprints.  They belong to Ronald Cicero, a lifer at Angola State Prison… an inmate the warden insists is still there.  Broussard sends psychologist Kit Franklyn to find out who is locked up in Cicero’s cell.  But an astonishing discovery at the jail and an attempt on her life almost has Kit sleeping with the crawfish in a bayou swamp. And Broussard, making a brilliant deduction about another murder, may soon be digging his own grave.”

“Sleeping with the Crawfish” is a fast paced thriller.  The author, D.J. Donaldson, is a retired professor of anatomy and neurobiology and not surprisingly, the science used in the story is very detailed but easy to understand.  He imbues the character of Kit Franklyn with a similar impressive scientific skill set that she uses to infiltrate a mysterious biotech firm. 

Dr. Broussard, the medical examiner, is by far the most interesting character with a rich background of interests.  He is worldly as well as scientific but manages not to take himself too seriously.  He is not a ladies man but this very characteristic almost causes his downfall.  When not noshing on his favorite lemon ball candies, he is most at home hanging out at Grandma O’s with his cronies playing practical jokes on one another.  He has an affinity for Louis L’Amour novels as well as antebellum architecture.

Together he and Kit try to solve Cicero's murder which only leads them to a much more complicated plot involving corrupt officials and a mysterious biotech firm.  Throughout "Sleeping with the Crawfish" is Broussard's hope that Kit will find back the self-confidence that made her such an invaluable part of his office.  Kit is quite certain that her previous self-confidence was unfounded. The two try to navigate an eclectic cast of characters as they try to solve the murders.  The story is well paced and offers the reader a good feel for New Orleans and Memphis culture.

My only complaint is that it wasn’t clear to me if the characters exist in today’s world or some prior time.  Donaldson seems to have set his characters in a technological anachronism.  While they have computers, they don’t have cell phones (much less smart phones).  That would be okay but one character refers to the Internet although no one seems to actually use it.  Documents are still stored on “computer disks”.  Characters are always offering to “reverse the charges” on long-distance phone calls, a courtesy younger readers may not even understand. 

The lack of modern technology creates some situations that frankly would be very hard to explain given today’s digital reality.  The characters may exist in some earlier timeframe or the author may have chosen to de-emphasize digital technology for the sake of creating some added tension. (Note: the publisher just informed me that this story was written back in the mid-90s, hence the lack of digital technology.  The author felt that adding smart phones and such to the story would drastically change the way the events occurred. I agree but I'll leave my review as written.)

The references to an earlier case that traumatized Kit Franklyn, makes me wonder if this anachronism wasn't explained in a previous book.  Still as someone who uses the Internet and digital technology on a daily basis, I found this a bit distracting.

Despite this, I would still recommend “Sleeping with the Crawfish” if for no other reason than the chance to get know Dr. Broussard.  He is someone you wouldn’t mind sitting down to a bowl of shrimp etouffee with and hearing him wax nostalgic about New Orleans architecture.

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