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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Negative Buoyancy by Valerie Goldsilk

Negative Buoyancy by Valerie Goldsilk
Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full (346 pages)
Heat: Sensual
Rating: 4 Books
Reviewed by Edelweiss

After dumping her boorish boyfriend, Madeleine LeMesurier takes a break from her job at a Hong Kong-based detective agency and signs up for a scuba diving holiday in Thailand. Despite the presence of hunky Australian investment banker Robert Maine on the dive boat, the vacation turns out to be far from idyllic.

A series of strange accidents, a missing diver, and a baffling death are simply the beginning. Just as Madeleine begins to realise that some of her fellow divers are not what they claim to be and that a strange conspiracy is unfolding around her, a gang of modern-day pirates boards the ship.

In Negative Buoyancy, Valerie Goldsilk gives us a book with an unusual mix of qualities. In fact, this melange of attributes--including the contrast between the book’s strengths and weaknesses--goes beyond the mere novel all the way to something striking. This is something that tends to take on a life of its own, embossing the reading journey with a kind of…displaced personality. Overall, it does manage to contribute to the books’ appeal and it helps build a memorable reading experience.

The book’s dominant strength is its prose, which is very nearly without peer for speed. This is prose so energetic and so smoothly mercurial that the race forward is like speed reading on the surface of a superconductor. The pages simply fly by. Goldsilk uses comma minimization as part of her prose technique. Many authors do, but it’s a risky approach, difficult to apply consistently enough to become truly invisible and nondistracting to the reader. But the author does it as well as anyone you’re likely to read.

There are other strengths. The narrative is of high quality, the descriptions vivid, and the figures of speech hit the mark and appeal well to the senses. The story also gets a big boost from the characters, which are exceptionally varied--widely international, in fact--and superbly done. Our heroine, Madeleine, is drawn in masterly fashion, and her appeal is so strong that we like her despite her lack of insight and her very realistic faults. Our hero, Robert, is even more complex. Sure, he serves as a foil for Madeleine’s romantic impulses. But he is also more. Early on we sense that he is not what he seems; hence he becomes part of the story’s suspense. Dialogue is creative in a way that brings the characters and the story to life, and it is believable—no mean feat for a cast of characters this varied.

The main weakness is the author’s penchant for lavishing more details than we really need. A related issue is the matter of plot segments that provide little more than ballast. One scene dedicated to scuba lessons is novel; two is okay if it contributes to the plot. This book has more than I cared to count: lessons in the classroom; lessons in the pool; lessons on the boat; lessons off the boat; lessons at night. And the details! There are details about the dive club and its history, its rules, even its smells. There are details about the streets of Hong Kong. There are details about the bureaucratic procedure for requesting vacation leave; even details about TV programs Madeleine watches. But here we need a clarification. This distraction with details is a negative, but it doesn’t detract much from the reading enjoyment, and that’s because of the prose. It really is that good. And the details slide by easily. Plus, since this is a mystery, we’re alert to details we might need as clues for later. The tendency in this book is to assume that that especially applies to the flood of diving information we receive. We get enough training on scuba diving to feel we should be certified. Plus there’s much minutiae on diving equipment, right down to brand name and model numbers! We take this in stride because of the suspense of maybe needing it later. We do, but only a small fraction. The author could have spared us at least half the rest.

The other weakness is the ending. This book’s ending is strange, and it leaves us…wondering. Of course, your mileage may vary and you may feel differently than I.

A few other issues contribute to the book’s unique texture. Early on, the author signals an avid enthusiasm for homosexual themes. Although tastefully done, this is a larger (and stronger) dose than many will be comfortable with. But then later on, in what seems like a dramatic contrast, the author has many characters engage in blatant national stereotyping. The Japanese and Germans come in for quite a bashing in this department.

On balance, Negative Buoyancy is a highly distinctive reading experience, one that intrigues to the very last sentence. It leaves an aftertaste that’s at least half smiling, and the only word to describe it is…droll.