by Cynthia Chow
& Gretchen Archer
This week we have a review of the latest mystery from Gretchen Archer, along with an interesting guest post by Gretchen about epistolary novels. Details at the end of the post on how to enter to win a signed copy of the book along with some Bellissimo Resort & Casino swag, and a link to order it from Amazon.
Double Wide: A Davis Way Crime Caper Book 10 by Gretchen Archer
Review by Cynthia Chow
As Bellissimo Resort and Casino’s covert security agent and frequent celebrity body double for the self-centered and vain Bianca Sanders, Davis Way Cole often finds herself in absurd and dangerous situations. Being stuffed in a motorhome basement is a first though, especially since she has also been “adultnapped” with her fellow operative Fantasy Erb and an extremely eccentric golf caddy named Mango Matisse. While Davis initially assumes that she has mistakenly been taken in place of the billionaire’s wife Bianca, information arduously pulled from the trivia-spouting Mango quickly proves otherwise. While Davis does not need to know that 70% of the crimes against women are committed by their intimate partners or the number of poisonous snakes in certain countries, tidbits of actual clues seem to be hidden within Mango’s babble. And the longer it seems to be taking Davis’s husband and her trusty agent Baylor to find them, the more Davis and Fantasy are going to more to rely on themselves to escape and track down the scheme’s Mastermind.
This tenth of the series takes the unique step of interspersing Davis’s letters to her husband, written on takeout menus, with emails, memos, and blogs from an assortment of hilarious parties on the women’s trails. Having postponed/cancelled his fifth attempt at a wedding to Davis’s nanny July, Baylor defies Davis’s mandate to never touch her computer, and documents through emails, their attempts to find them. Davis’s husband Bradley single-mindedly focuses on scrambling together the $50 million ransom, while her boss “No Hair” Jeremy Covey seems more likely to crack heads and interrogate later. Surprisingly, it’s Gulf Coast Herald investigative reporter Nelson Miller who may be closest to tracking down the women held on a random island off of Alabama. When Nelson loses his official status as employed reporter, the mantle is taken up by intern Tiffanee Jones, former beauty blogger who writes with a text language and euphemisms that requires translation for anyone over the age of twenty.
Alternating chapters with Davis’s intrepid and very clever strategy to save herself and her best friend Fantasy, keeps the viewpoint as seen by our heroine, who occasionally falters but remains determined to return home to her husband and her children. Bradley’s momster preemptively makes plans to help her son move on with the next wife, while Davis’s ex-ex-husband, of course, has to add to the chaos. The humor and action moves at a fast pace and keeps readers riveted to the page, especially as Davis gets closer to discovering the goal of this extremely complex plan. Taking the characters out of the Bellissimo refreshes the series and takes advantage of the southern coast setting and the quirky personalities who live there. This is an extraordinarily fun and laugh-out-loud mystery that still hits emotional beats and rewarding endpoints for characters. This series remains at the top of my favorites as it never ceases to create flawed individuals who may not always be likable but are always hilarious. Non-stop action, humorous dialogue, money-driven scams, a treasure hunt, and a surfeit of eccentric characters make this another wonderful entry in the Davis Way series.
The Epistolary Novel
by Gretchen Archer
Have you ever read an epistolary? A story told through correspondence rather than by a narrator? Of the epistolaries I’ve read—comparatively speaking, there aren’t all that many out there. The one that made the biggest impression was A Woman Of Independent Means by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey. With the single exception of A Woman, I’ve never read a book more than once, unlike my oldest daughter Laura, who reads the entire Harry Potter series every year or Margaret Tate, Sandra Bullock’s character in The Proposal, who reads Wuthering Heights every Christmas. But I’ve read A Woman at least a dozen times since stumbling upon it in my early twenties, and I’d happily sit down with it again today. I’ve gifted it to friends so often through the years that once when it temporarily went out of print, I panicked a little. I absolutely loved the epistolary format. I loved piecing Bess Steed Garner’s life together from her letters, starting with her fourth grade spelling bee and ending with her (assumed) death at eighty. There aren’t responses to Bess’s entries. It’s up to the reader to see past the words on the page and reach their own conclusions as to what might be going on behind the scenes. An epistolary is an interactive read, fully engaging the reader, a book in which the reader plays a pivotal role. And right about now, I bet you’re reading past the words on this page to see exactly where I’m headed with this; Double Wide is an epistolary.
Let’s talk pros and cons of an epistolary.
Author pro: it’s challenging to write. Honestly, it felt like putting an 80,000-word puzzle together, but every piece was the same color and shape. The trickiest? Deciding which character would advance the storyline. The hardest part? Holding back. Refraining from letting the characters know too much too soon. It was a delicate balancing act and I loved every minute of it.
Reader pro: it’s challenging to read. The story doesn’t unfold in the usual manner. It inches forward in surprising fits and unexpected bursts from a number of sources, requiring the reader to actively, rather than passively, pick up the clues. Like searching for story treasure.
Author pro: writing from multiple viewpoints. Let’s do some rough math. Before Wide, there were nine books in my series averaging 75,000 words each which means I’ve written roughly 675,000 words from my main character Davis Way’s perspective. That 675,000 views through one camera lens. Never had I ever spread my author wings to other character voices in a complete novel, much less the dozens of voices found in Double Wide.
Reader pro: a direct connection to every character. Within the pages of Double Wide the reader rides shotgun, for better or for worse, with all the contrasting characters. Until Wide, the reader has only been privy to Davis’s observations of the supporting cast and guest stars. In Wide, the reader hears directly from fan-favorites Bea Crawford and Baylor (Just Baylor). Reader feedback to the cameo characters appearing in Wide has been almost unanimous: I loved Nelson; I hated Tiffannie (poor misunderstood Tiffie). (Talk about a writing/reading challenge.)
Do you think you might enjoy an epistolary novel? Try The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, or Double Wide…by me!
To enter to win a signed copy of Double Wide along with some Bellissimo Resort & Casino swag, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “wide,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 28, 2021. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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