The Barnes & Noble Review
Stuart Woods wrote one of the most serious and accomplished crime novels of my generation, Chiefs, a southern novel spanning 40 years and the lives of three police chiefs who must try to solve a brutal racial murder. It is elegant, elegiac, and powerful. It also inspired a miniseries almost as good as the book itself.
If Woods's work since then has been less daring and innovative, he has become a reliable purveyor of glossy beach books that are as much fun as movie popcorn.
And Orchid Beach, the new one, is no exception.
Former Army Sergeant Holly Barker is a witness in an Army sexual-harrassment case in which the old-boys network triumphs as usual. Holly knows that her military career is virtually over. The old boys will see to it that she's never again promoted. She decides to take her dad's friend up on his offer of making her deputy chief of police in Orchid Beach, Florida.
My phrase "a reliable purveyor of glossy beach books" might sound slightly patronizing, but I don't mean it to be at all. This one is put together with as much art and skill as far more "serious" crime novels.
Woods is so smooth, so slick, he gives us a 40-page nonstop run that gets the novel going in high gear. Yes, Holly reaches Orchid Beach, but there finds that the chief who hired her is in a coma. Somebody shot him in the head the night before. She goes to talk to the chief's best friend and finds him murdered. What kind of town is Orchid Beach? What has she gotten herself into? Are any of these seemingly innocent people to be believed?
Woods plays all hiscards.There's romance, danger (a couple of big-budget Bruce Willis-like action scenes), and a lot of tartly observed characters who live in gated communities away from the riffraff.
There's even a dog, a winsome Doberman named Daisy, with whom Holly identifies innordinately (they're both tough bitches, as she notes).
Raymond Chandler once wrote to Erle Stanley Gardner that the virtue of fast writing (such as Gardner practiced and Chandler loathed) was that the relentlessness of the storytelling sweeps you along so irresistibly that you never stop to question whether this or that plot point makes sense. All of Woods's recent books have that "irresistible" quality you just can't stop reading them. But I doubt they're written quickly. Woods is a polished writer in every sense, and a lot of the sentences shine. And the back stories of the major characters are worked out in loving and fascinating detail.
If you want state-of-the-art crime entertainment, then you want Stuart Woods. He delivers the goods every time out.
Ed Gorman, barnesandnoble.com
School Library Journal
YA-An entertaining suspense story. After losing a sexual-harassment lawsuit, Major Holly Barker, 37, retires from the military and accepts a job as assistant police chief in Orchid Beach, FL. Even before she gets her trailer unhitched and her uniform on, police chief Chet Marley and his friend Hank Doherty are brutally murdered. She doesn't know whom she can trust in her department, and the murders seem to be tied to the heavily secured and gated community of Palmetto Gardens. Holly adopts a Doberman pinscher (who comes to her rescue more than once) and becomes romantically involved with a local lawyer. The main characters are well drawn and expressive. Holly Barker is tough when she needs to be, and clever and persistent in following her hunches. With a little assistance, she finds the leak in her department and solves the murders.-Patricia White-Williams, Kings Park Library, Fairfax County, VA
Swimming in suspense. -- People
Lawyer/cop/shamus/adventurer Stone Barrington chronicler Woods gives his swaggering hero and any Stone-weary readers a welcome breakthough the result is a so-so suspenser with a distaff paragon just as deadly and insubstantial as the male.
What can you do with a female hero that you can't do with a man? She can get threatened and bullied by troglodyte guys; she can have a discreet romance that reminds you how vulnerable she is; she can get assaulted by a rapist; she can sue for sexual harassment. Woods obligingly works in every one of these episodes, starting with the lawsuit, which is doomed to failure because Major Holly Barker's harasser, a West Point grad, is in so tight with the Army brass that she jumps at the chance to resign her commission and take a job as Deputy Chief under her dad's old pal Chet Marley, of Florida's Orchid Beach. Before she can even introduce herself to the other (male) officers, though, the Chief is gunned down, presumably by the same person or persons who grabbed his shotgun, drove out to the house of his best friend, dog trainer Hank Doherty, and settled his hash too. The only survivor is Hank's wonder dog Daisy (imagine Lassie able to fetch Timmy a Heineken), a real bitch Holly is proud to take as a role model. And she'll need the toughest model she can get, because Woods, uncomfortable with the constraints of the whodunit formula, soon directs Holly's attention to outsized enemies both without (a gated community on the fringes of Orchid Beach that's exclusive, private, and armed to the teeth) and within (dark hints of a mole within Holly's department). Before many suns have set on Holly and her true love, and all those other girls'-only plot devices have kicked in, she'll be joining the FBI in a full-scale assault on an upscale Waco that leaves no Stone untopped.
Read an Excerpt
By Stuart Woods
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2007 Stuart Woods
All right reserved.
Holly Barker, with the rest of the crowd, was called to her feet as the panel of officers filed into the courtroom. She was a spectator now, no longer a witness, but she wanted to be here for this.
Colonel James Bruno stood at the defense table, ramrod straight, and watched his judges with beady eyes. For the first time since his trial had begun, he was not smiling.
"Seats!" the clerk of the court called out, and all sat.
The brigadier general, who was president of the court, cleared his throat. "The following three verdicts have been reached unanimously," the general said. "As to the first charge, sexual harassment, we have reached a verdict of not guilty."
Holly's stomach shrank into a knot. She locked her knees so that they would not buckle. She knew what could only come next.
"As to the second charge, attempted rape, we have reached a verdict of not guilty," the general said. "And as to the third charge, conduct unbecoming an officer, we have reached a verdict of not guilty."
"Yes!" screamed a woman in the front row.
Holly recognized her as Colonel Bruno's wife. It was the first time she had appeared in court.
"Colonel Bruno," the general said, "you are restored to duty. This court is adjourned."
Holly made her way slowly through the crowd, ignoring the reporters who weredemanding her reaction to the verdict. On her way she came abreast of the young blond lieutenant who had been the other complainant in the case. Holly found her hand and squeezed. The woman was in tears.
The cold outside air struck like a slap, reviving her, and she saw her father's car at the curb. She got in beside him.
"I'm sorry," he said. He was dressed in his master sergeant's uniform and wore the green beret of the special forces.
"You knew, didn't you?" she asked.
Hamilton Barker nodded. "It was in the cards," he said. "It was Bruno's word against yours. He's a West Pointer, and so were most of the court. They weren't going to destroy his career."
"They've destroyed mine," Holly said. She could see the gold oak leaf on her left shoulder out of the corner of her eye.
"You can request a transfer, and they can't deny it," her father said.
"Come on, Ham. They'd never let me forget it. I'd end up in some unit commanded by a classmate of Bruno's, and I'd be repeatedly passed over for promotion on some pretext or other."
Her father said nothing.
"I could get a job on a police force somewhere," she said.
"Funny you should mention that," her father replied.
They sat in a steak house near the base, the ruins of their dinner before them. The talk had been of army, Vietnam and army, and Holly had done all the listening.
She liked Ham's friend and old comrade-in-arms, Chet Marley; he was smaller and skinnier than Ham, but he had the same wiry toughness as her father, the same crow's-feet around the eyes from squinting into the distance. And he seemed very smart.
"Okay, enough of this old-soldier stuff," Marley said suddenly. "I've got a problem, Holly, and I think you might be the person to help me solve it."
"Tell me, Chet," Holly said.
"I'm chief of a twenty-four-man force in Orchid Beach, Florida, and there's a gaping hole where the number-two man ought to be."
"Don't you believe in promoting from within?" Holly asked.
"I believe in the best man for the job," Marley said. "Or woman," he added.
"You short of good men?"
"I'm short of experienced men. Most of them are in their twenties. I've got one man who's forty and has experience, but I don't trust him."
"Don't trust him, how?" Holly asked.
"He's a politician, and I don't like politicians. He thinks he should have my job, which is okay, I guess, except he'd screw it up if he had it."
"Why don't you fire him?"
"He's never given me any real cause, and he's connected with some of the city council."
"That's bad, I guess," Holly replied. "I'm no politician, but I can see how that could be difficult to deal with."
"I'm going to retire next year, and I don't want him to have my job," Marley said. "My idea is to bring in an experienced . . . person, somebody who can take charge and be ready when I go."
Holly nodded, but said nothing.
"I know about your record from your old man," Marley said, "and I've asked around some, too, because I wouldn't take his word for anything." He grinned and cast a sideways glance at Ham Barker. "You're already running more MPs than I've got cops. I've heard about your unit citations and the level of training and performance you demand from your people, and I like what I hear."
"Thank you," she said.
"Of course, we're not the army, and things have to be handled a little different in civilian life, but I think you could get used to that."
"I'm sure I could," Holly said.
"It's a nice town, Orchid Beach. It sits on a barrier island halfway down the east coast of Florida, has a population of around twenty thousand, a lot of them retirees."
"Lots of tourists?"
"No, not really tourists. We get the same folks back, year after year, most of them to family beach houses--folks from Atlanta and Charlotte and Birmingham, and a lot of northeasterners. We've got no high-rise hotels, no casinos and only a few motels. There's a small black community and a stable blue-collar group, mostly construction workers, plumbers, electricians and a few retired military folk. We've got a low crime rate and not much of a drug problem, until recently."
Excerpted from Orchid Beach by Stuart Woods Copyright © 2007 by Stuart Woods. Excerpted by permission.
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