Under Tower Peak (Arcade Publishing, 2013) is the first full-length novel from Bart Paul, who has written documentaries, short stories, and a biography. Described as a contemporary Western thriller, this book has an original plot, well-developed characters, and an intriguing writing style. I do not understand how it was overlooked by awards groups when it was released.
Tommy Smith, the first-person narrator, works for a tiny wilderness tourist outfit in the Sierra Nevada mountains, which are exquisitely depicted. He and his sidekick Lester stumble on a plane crash with the pilot’s remains, probably of a billionaire who vanished several months before. On their way to report their find to the sheriff, Tommy learns that Lester walked away with a Rolex watch from the body and thousands of dollars he found in the plane. Trying to keep his dim friend out of trouble, Tommy plans to return the loot to the crash site before talking to the sheriff but Lester and his just as dumb girlfriend decide to claim the reward for finding the lost billionaire first. When they alert the family, they also accidentally alert the Miami drug cartel with whom the son is deeply enmeshed. Quickly the quiet mountain neighborhood is overrun by lawyers and thugs, setting off a chain reaction of startling events.
Students of writing would do well to analyze this book. I found myself studying the style while I was following the story line. The prose is clean and pared down; if there is an extraneous word in the narrative, I don’t know where it is.
I floundered in the beginning as there is no stage set or backstory established, the story jumps straight into the middle of a scene. I picked up the history of the characters and the setting in bits as the account unfolded.
The momentum is subtly relentless; the story begins with action that does not stop. I looked for a place to break about midway through the book, couldn’t find one, and just kept reading instead. An interesting trick to convey motion: the author used relatively few commas. I thought it was an editing flaw in the Kindle version but decided it was a deliberate device to maintain the drive of the story. A comma subliminally indicates a pause or temporary interruption; with the omission of commas the action flows continuously.
Wall Street Journal named it one of their best mysteries of 2013 and Booklist gave it a starred review. Highly recommended.
- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Arcade Publishing (April 1, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1611458366
- ISBN-13: 978-1611458367
Aubrey Hamilton © 2017
Aubrey Hamilton is a former librarian who works on Federal IT projects by day and reads mysteries at night.