Gladstone by John A. Miller

MillerGladstoneWhy I Read It: Desert southwest mystery with a twist – had to read it.

Where I Got It: Won a copy.

Who I Recommend This To: If you enjoy your mysteries with a Twilight Zone-esquness to them, then this is worth your time to check out.

Narrator: Deren Hansen

Publisher: Self-published (2014)

Length: 4 hours 46 minutes

Series: Book 1 Gladstone

Author’s Page

Jack needs to relax, and find a new life. Leaving a messy divorce behind, he heads out west, only to take a wrong turn and have his car break down. Luckily, Susan comes by on her Indian motorcycle to give him assistance. Pretty soon, Jack finds himself in an old-time Western town. It looks like the place is done up to attract tourists during the right season. Everyone is polite, helping with his car, finding him a room to rent for a few days as parts are ordered in. Heck, someone even offers him a cigar and a game of darts. The town sheriff could be right out of a Spaghetti Western. But there is something odd, and Jack first notices with Susan, the only Native American in town. Animals seem to understand her. Then he starts to notice that things don’t cost as much as they do out in the real world. Yep, there is definitely something strange, perhaps even magical, about Gladstone.

This story caught my attention early on. Jack breaking down on a dusty road in Arizona really isn’t that odd. Lots of dusty roads in the Southwest. Lots of people break down. But once he gets to Gladstone, we start to see interesting little bits that let us, the readers, know that all is not as it seems. So while I wasn’t sure what exactly was going on with the townsfolk, I had fun watching Jack start to notice the oddities. The town is small, tucked away in a canyon. There’s one bar where folks go to drink and socialize and lose at darts. One man goes out every few weeks to bring in supplies. So no deliveries from the outside world. Yet folks have cell phones and computers. So these folks are not ignorant of the rest of the world. Indeed the set up is excellent, giving the reader plenty to ponder and keep them reading on.

The middle of the story sagged a bit for me as everyone was way, way polite. While we do start to learn of Susan’s strange affinity with animals, that was pretty much the highlight of the middle. But the last third picked up again with Haskell, who use to live in Gladstone. He becomes the main antagonist. Of course, Jack isn’t aware of Haskell or his reasons for wanting to cause destruction to Gladstone, so the townsfolk have to make a choice of whether or not to trust the man. Will Jack help the town? Will they kick him out? Will they tie him up and lock him in his car until all the excitement is over and then toss him out? I wasn’t sure until the last quarter of the book how things would turn out for Jack – and that is one of the things I liked about this book.

The plot starts off strong, but by the end I had some questions, mostly about the other main character, Susan. She is Native American, but we never learn her family name. And since she has this strong affinity for the animals, wild and tame, I wondered how she felt about the townsfolk eating meat. I can’t recall her specifically eating meat, but she did go to a dance where a pig was being roasted. Luckily, the author didn’t mind chatting on line and assured me that all meat was brought in from the outside (so, no the townsfolk were not eating Susan’s friends). And Susan has her Caucasian name because her Native American name is too hard for many people to pronounce.

Also, my one real criticism is that Susan is the only non-Caucasian in this book. If you have read the book and know the ending, this doesn’t make much sense. SPOILER ALERT The canyon has some magical quality that has preserved Susan since the 1800s. Her family left her there to go finish business warring and never came back. So after a few years, she was lonely, and started taking in strays – like these sick, dying folks who couldn’t keep up with a caravan heading to California. But for some reason she never found any Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, or Native Americans that were sick or wounded or being chased by bad people to take in and help. Given the racial mix of the Southwest over the 200 year time period, you’d think there would be at least one or two other non-Caucasian’s taken in and who also decided to stay. END SPOILER. Still, perhaps this will come up in future installments in the series and we’ll see a more realistic cast of characters.

The ending wrapped up the major plot points for this story, but also left the door open for the next book in the series. By the end, we have more info about the antagonist and his reasons for attacking Gladstone and we also know something of the magical qualities of the canyon. Jack still needs to find his spot in life, and the townsfolk may have found an ally in Jack. Oh, and part of this book takes place in the town I was born in, albeit I only ever visited the hospital – my parents living in an even smaller town that had no medical  personnel whatsoever.

Narration:  The narration was very good, Hansen capturing Jack’s often questioning attitude as he tried to figure out what the hell was going on. Hansen also had very nice feminine voices, a British accent, and a Tennessee accent too (when it was required).

What I Liked:  The setting; Susan’s affinity for animals; the cover; the ending wrapped up this plot but left plenty of room for a sequel.

What I Disliked:  There was only 1 non-Caucasian in this story; the middle was a bit slow.

OnceUponATime8Tis the season for fantasy in all forms. Join the reading challenge Once Upon A Time, hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. You can catch my intro post to this year’s challenge over HERE. Anyone can join this event, which runs from March 21 – June 20, 2014.

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