by Cynthia Chow
& Tina Whittle
This week we have a review of Tina Whittle’s latest mystery novel Blood, Ash and Bone, a fun guest post by Tina about southern settings for books, and you can enter to win a copy of the book-details at the end of this post.
Blood, Ash, and Bone: A Tai Randolph Mystery By Tina Whittle
Review by Cynthia Chow
Atlanta gun dealer Tai Randolph has settled into a steady, if not entirely comfortable, relationship with Trey Seaver, a sexy former cop and Special ops agent whose recovery from a brain injury has him as a virtual living lie detector who has had to study and relearn how to behave normally. The entrance of Tai’s appropriately named friend, John Wilde, threatens to end the unusual absence of calamites. He has come to offer Tai a job to retrieve a near-priceless Bible stolen by Hope, the woman he left Tai for and who is the co-owner of their pawn shop. Hope now has what could be an1859 Oxford King James Bible inscribed by Abraham Lincoln and gifted to General Sherman in 1864 in her possession. John also happens to owe 20 grand to the former KKK Grand Dragon of Chatham County. This makes his presence at Savannah’s Southeastern Civil War Expo–where Hope plans to sell the Bible–a little awkward. Even more disconcerting is that the former head Klansman also happens to be Tai’s uncle by marriage. Then a wealthy client from Trey’s security company enlists him in a race for the Bible, and the game is most definitely on.
Tai discovers that Hope– forever a thorn in her side–is using her identity and risking her reputation by accruing accusations of fraud. At this point, nothing can stop Tai from hunting and tracking down either one of the most valuable artifacts of the Civil War or an expertly crafted forgery. Whichever it is though, it is an item that attracts more than a hundred years’ worth of resentment and sorrow.
As Tai and Trey delve into the Expo and a world of Civil War artifacts, aficionados, and re-enactments, Tai also must confront the new world of the KKK whose modern face of congeniality, websites, and empowerment holds the same hatred and violence of the past. Tai and Trey have an extraordinarily complicated and touching relationship, and Trey is a completely original and fascinating character. Experiencing abandonment by most of the people in his life, Trey is an incredible agent with incomparable skills but childlike in his vulnerability as he attempts to piece together his life.
What I appreciate is that the author never forces complications into their relationship through miscommunications solely as a plot device and for the sake of suspending a happy ending. Instead, the author has them maturely acknowledging their differences and weaknesses and then attempting to resolve them head on. They achieve this by showing up for one another, and by just being there. Tai herself is an impulsive, smart-mouthed, rash-acting, emotionally-driven counter to the studied and completely analytical and ultimately ruthless Trey. Together they make a delightful and beautiful team. This is one of my favorite mystery series and this third entry completely lives up to the promise of the previous humor and suspense-filled mysteries.
A Southern Setting
By Tina Whittle
I grew up in a small Middle Georgia town, a cotton field in my backyard, train whistles calling in the night beyond the piney woods. Some people might describe this as quintessentially Southern. And they’d be right.
But there’s another South, a land of concrete and skyscrapers, noise and motion, an urban South. And no city better personifies this fast-moving, straight-shooting, quick-on-its-feet landscape than Atlanta. With a population of approximately 5.4 million people in the metro area, Atlanta is always stretching out and up. The sounds of jackhammers and ringing steel are a constant, and its population is a crazy quilt of people with skins in every shade from freckled buttermilk to rich saffron to dark ebony.
It’s a city rich in both crime and history, sharp enough to keep my gun shop-owning protagonist Tai Randolph on her toes. Like Tai, Atlanta is mouthy and sweet-talking, charismatic and prone to inappropriate laughter. It’s also edgy and sly and starts drinking too early in the afternoon. Tai’s an outsider here, unlike Trey Seaver, her ex-SWAT love interest. Trey was born and raised in Atlanta, and currently lives in one of the steel and graphite-glassed high-rises in Buckhead, the ninth most expensive zip code in the country. Like Trey, Buckhead is a contradiction. Its haute couture and high-end exclusivity dissolves on Saturday nights, when it becomes a frat boy’s dream, a strip of grinding dance bars and Jell-O shots and halter tops.
Tai describes Atlanta as “too big for its britches” but she’s coming to respect this city that dragged itself literally from the ashes of the Civil War. In The Dangerous Edge of Things, she meets not only a determined killer, but also the man who will eventually become her partner (in multiple ways). In Darker Than Any Shadow, she learns that words make fine and deadly weapons as she investigates a killing in the hyper-competitive world of slam poetry. In each case, Atlanta proves as worthy an adversary as the murderous villains she’s pursuing.
In Blood, Ash and Bone, Tai is returning to Savannah for the first time in six months, in hot pursuit of a valuable Civil War artifact that may or may not have a string of corpses in its wake. Tai describes Savannah as “her own personal briar patch”…and it is. She knows the labyrinthine alleys running behind River Street, the channels and rivers of the ocean-fed wetlands, the moss-draped squares and grassy cemeteries.
She speaks with an insider’s intimacy of Savannah’s ghosts and legends and history, bloody though they may be, saying, “I’d left Atlanta in cold, clear sunshine, but Savannah was warm and misty, in the first stages of a soft ripening autumn. It stirred something deep inside me, something tidal…Despite the rain, I rolled down the car window and let the smell of the low country inside—the humid air thick as vegetation, the chemical pong of the paper mill, the salt-clean top notes of the ocean. It was impossible to separate the land and the sea in Savannah. They encroached and flowed, sometimes antagonistic, always intimate, island and marsh and estuary in sustained restless cycles.”
Savannah and Atlanta are the yin and yang of Tai’s life, in the same way that she and Trey both complement and conflict. Her life is betwixt and between, a story still being written. Atlanta bookends Blood, Ash and Bone, giving the tale two covers to lie between. It is Savannah, however, that provides the tender and treacherous heart at the center.
To enter to win a copy of Blood, Ash, and Bone, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Ash,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 16, 2013. U.S. residents only.