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"A good story well told by a promising newcomer."--Kirkus Reviews
Posted September 25, 2001
John DeCure's mystery 'Reef Dance' hit me with all the force and freshness of the California surf which serves as the backdrop to this impressive debut novel. This is a different sort of mystery, one without gratuitous gunplay or an ever-increasing body count. No less a master than Raymond Chandler once said that whenever one of his plots bogged down, he would always bring on a 'man with a gun.' DeCure's talent--or rather, one of them--is that he doesn't have to resort to such authorial tricks in order to keep his story moving. And what a story it is! DeCure's protagonist, J. Shephard, is a California lawyer with a touch of the anti-hero about him. Fate has not been kind to J. lately. His romantic life is a shambles, and his professional one isn't much better. He toils in the belly of a beast otherwise known as Los Angeles's juvenile dependency court, where cases involving child welfare and custody are adjudicated. At only twenty-nine years of age, J. is already a burnout, his ideals battered by the never-ending stream of pedophilic, drug-abusing, child-beating clients that the court constantly assigns him to defend. His one refuge is the ocean; his only solace, surfing. Tucked into the rolling wet curl of a wave, J. can almost remember what it is like to believe in something. But the tenor of J.'s life suddenly changes when he is assigned a monster case, the defense of a poor, 'white-trash' mother accused, along with her even trashier husband, of selling her youngest son to a wealthy couple desperate for a baby. The case has all the makings of a media circus, and J. wants nothing to do with pleading the cause of a woman who was apparently willing to abandon her child for the sake of a quick buck. Moreover, all symptoms of burnout aside, this case also hits too close to home for him: As a teenager, he himself was abandoned by his own mother, Marielena Shephard. Unfortunately, J.'s boss leaves him no choice: He must represent Sue Ellen Randall. At first, J. is willing to believe the worst of his client, but as time goes by, he starts to wonder if she could perhaps be innocent after all. The search for the truth about the baby-selling case is not, however, the only puzzle here. As J. pursues information on his client's behalf, he is also inexorably drawn into the central mystery of his own life: the reason why his mother abandoned him. His personal quest is hindered more than helped by the appearance of an old friend, a world-famous surfer named Jackie Pace. Jackie seems to know more than he should about the whereabouts of J.'s mother, yet he's also determined to keep his secrets to himself. These two mysteries--the baby-selling case and the disappearance of Marielena Shephard--reflect and play off of each other throughout the book, building to a powerful conclusion. John DeCure is a novelist to watch. His writing is vivid and self-assured. I am not a surfer, but DeCure's breath-taking descriptions made me feel like one. Likewise, the trial scenes are beautifully and suspensefully drawn, with the excitement building until the climactic courtroom showdown. The characters pulse with life, especially the unique and unpredictable Jackie Pace. Like most mystery readers, I am constantly on the lookout for new authors to feed my addiction. With DeCure's superb 'Reef Dance,' I have not fed. I have feasted.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
In 1992, J. Shepard is tired of his depressing cases as an attorney for the Los Angeles County Dependency Court Legal project. Each client seems helpless with no hope for the future for himself or herself and their children yet most will do whatever is required of them to keep their children. Still after today¿s session with the sovereign of filth, J. looks forward to riding the surf. <P>However, he is unable to sneak out as planned because he is assigned the media visible case of indigent and ignorant Sue Ellen Randall, who sold her baby. Sue Ellen and her husband want the infant returned, but the foster parents, wealthy with White House connections Corwin and Kitty Danforth refuse to surrender Nathan. J. wants out of the case because it reminds him of his own mother who deserted him thirteen years ago. However, he provides legal services to Sue Ellen. As he digs deeper into the dispute, he begins to believe in the naive innocence of his client. <P> REEF DANCE is a powerful legal procedural that paints a different perspective on those mothers who sell their children. Readers will feel empathy towards Sue Ellen. However, the Danforths and their attorney are so tundra they are a wipe out, receiving no sympathy. The insight into juvenile dependency courts is breathtaking yet shocking. Readers will enjoy riding the waves with John deCure and hope J. will return in future dramas. However, the audience will feel disappointed that the talented author failed to surf a Saving Isiah type of wave so that the audience would feel genuine empathy towards both parties in the dispute. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.