Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Have You Cried "Cold Tears"?

Tonight we'll travel to the Midwest - Missouri as a matter of fact.  It's dark.  The trees and hills embrace the ebony sky.  The damp and fog cling.  Somewhere in the midst of this backwoods country is a missing baby girl.  Is she dead or kidnapped?  No one knows.  No one seems to care - except a stranger to this community.  Join me in reviewing A R Simmons' novel Cold Tears.

Book Blurb: 
A woman as deep in despair as a person can be. Is it unbearable grief or unbearable guilt?

A child is missing, a baby taken away in the middle of the night. It’s a life-shattering tragedy, but no one seems to care. Is it because the grieving mother is a “lowlife druggie,” as the chief investigator maintains? Or is there another reason the case is given short shrift by the “good people” of James Mill? 

Richard Carter, an ex-Marine suffering PTSD who has been spared prosecution for felony homicide only by a governor’s pardon, consents to help the grieving mother, Molly. In doing so, he ignores the pleading of his wife, Jill, who begs him to disengage from the situation which she sees as a threat to his wounded psyche.

Will the truth, if and when he finds it, save or destroy the woman who sees Richard as her “godsend?”  What he is doing may be futile as well as unwise. It may, in fact, plunge him into clinical depression and wreck his marriage. He has given his word to Molly, but Jill is his life.

What will the truth do to them all? And what are “cold tears”?

My Review: 
After traumatic events force them to leave home and hearth, Richard and Jill Carter have moved to a small Missouri town where Jill can continue working her way toward a coveted doctorate at a nearby university.  While Jill pursues her passion, Richard feels trapped in a nothing job, in a nothing town with no friends and where the residents see him as nothing more than an interloping outsider.  Richard can't focus enough to keep a job - any job - and spends his days pining away for a dream life that can never be:  a job with the FBI.  After a self-defense killing of a wanted criminal, the resultant arrest and then governor's pardon, his pursuit of a criminology degree is moot.  No one in law enforcement will ever hire him.  His dream is dead.

Until their neighbor Molly passes out in their front yard one night.  The next morning she comes over to thank Richard for helping her back home in her drunken state and begins to share with him the reason behind her actions.  Three months before her eight-month-old daughter was taken from her home in the wee morning hours.  The problem now is that the local law enforcement believe she's responsible.  Her blood alcohol level was off the charts that night, not counting the almost lethal dosage of Valium in her system.  With no tiny body yet discovered and little else to go on, they cannot hold the young mother indefinitely nor charge her with the crime they believe her guilty of - murdering her own child.

With nothing more than his gut instinct, Richard believes Molly's story and agrees to help find out what happened to little Mancie that night - much to Jill's chagrin.  Jill's been fighting an uphill battle to help her husband find hope and healing again, not to mention income to keep them financially afloat.  Now Molly's quest threatens the very thread of his sanity, leaving Jill feeling even more vulnerable and helpless in the face of uncertainty.  What if Molly really did kill her baby?  What about the sudden death of the babysitter?  Molly's boss?  And what if Richard is next?

The beginning of Cold Tears wrapped me up in the heart of the story, the kidnapping, and Jill's and Richard's emotional struggles.  But after awhile, it felt like the story wasn't moving forward and that the conversations between Jill and Richard were just constant rehashing of the same argument - so much so that I almost felt as if I was on a hamster wheel just running and spinning without getting anywhere.  

Don't get me wrong - there were some really good elements of a mystery here and if the story would have stayed on track in that regard, it would have kept my heart pounding.  At almost four hundred pages, however, I felt it was just wrung out until it was overlong and lost much steam because of it.

Jill and Richard obviously had a lot of trauma going on in their lives.  I'd liked to have gotten a bit more of the back-story to what had happened prior to their moving to Missouri.  Without that, it just seemed like they argued about and conversely avoided arguing about the same things over and over without any growth or resolution.  I get these kind of arguments DO happen in real life, but this is a novel.  Jill flipped back and forth in her support/lack-of-support of Richard's investigation until I felt as if I was watching a very looong tennis match.  It made her come across as petty and a bit unhinged at times and then almost like she was trying to be a parent to a child by the end.  Even though Richard seemed a bit child-like at times, I could understand his suffering and depressed state after having the rug pulled out from underneath him.  His whole life's work has collapsed.  Molly's need to find out what happened to her daughter fuels a faint spark of life he hasn't felt in many months.  The whole way Jill treated him, however, took her from a rather sympathetic character to a bit of a pathetic individual.

Elements of the mystery surrounding what had happened to Molly's child were initially cohesive and then became a rather disjointed mish-mash that again didn't really move the story forward until all of a sudden "poof" here's the resolution.  So many characters popped in and out without getting any real time or having any real connection to the story they seemed almost unnecessary or an afterthought to get back to the main story arc after weaving away for awhile.  This is where point-of-view rather ebbed and flowed too much between heads, whereas again at the beginning POV was clear and concise.

However, showing was good.  We followed along with the characters most of the time as the action was happening (except for the occasional moments where things like "but he didn't notice the car passing slowly by" and such that pulled me from the story - ugh!).  I appreciated this element of showing instead of telling more than I can say, especially when reading a mystery.

The elements of a good mystery are here.  With some tightening of the storyline to improve pacing, a bit more of Richard's back-story blended in, and additional editing of missing or misused words, I think Cold Tears has promise.  I'll give it three and a-half stars.

Purchase at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Author Bio: 
AR Simmons was born on Chicago’s north side, but grew up and lives in the eastern Missouri. He attended a one-room school through the eighth grade, and walked a mile to get there. His family worked a subsistence farm on Ozark land cleared from the native forest by his grandfather.

He was a carpenter’s helper and factory worker until drafted into the US Army at nineteen. A tour of duty took him to the Far East where he saw a world far different from his own. His military experience acquainted him with his country. The racial, ethnic, and cultural makeup of his squad changed forever his concept of “American.”

The GI Bill financed his entire college career. After declaring and rejecting majors in Business (lacked interest) and Art (fairly talented, but color blind), he settled on History, in which he obtained BA and MA degrees. Passing up a doctoral program (he was 27, married, and had no job), he took a public school teaching position “until something better came along.” He discovered, to his amazement, that the calling suited him.

He began writing shortly after he started teaching (supplemental essays on the history of technology and on foreign policy). His fiction writing career began with short sci-fi stories. Then he turned to the mystery/suspense genre which he now writes exclusively. In 2003, he began serializing novels on-line.

Today, he and his wife (life partner, collaborator, illustrator, and muse) still live on the farm his grandfather settled. His roots (four generations deep) are in the Ozarks where the Richard Carter series is set. Using the culture, language, and mores of this “Bible Belt” region, he writes culturally immersive stories of obsession set amidst the small-town and rural life that he knows.

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