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Not all mysteries are the same. Some are serious, some include law enforcement, some are more romance than mystery, some are on the comical side, some are historical, and some are just hard to define. Beyond the Narrows by M. R. Durbin is one of those hard-to-define mysteries. With its use of the Southern Utah landscape and Native American lore it’s reminiscent of Tony Hillerman’s novels. Featuring four diverse elderly men along with grandchildren of two of the men the reader is treated to the vernacular and realities of two different generations.
A Date with Danger by Kari Iroz is nothing like Beyond the Narrows, except they both involve a search for answers to a puzzle and someone wants to prevent the protagonists from achieving their goal badly enough to commit murder. It too is a hard-to-define kind of mystery with its airhead heroine, online dating, and modern dialog and technology. Though unusual in storyline and lifestyles, they’re both compelling novels that will keep the reader up late to finish “just one more chapter.”
BEYOND THE NARROWS by M.R. Durbin
An explosion destroys the pickup truck and camper of retired Navajo archeologist, Obie Begay. Only the old man’s craftiness in response to a premonition that something wasn’t right keeps him from being blown apart as well. So begins a thrilling and complicated mystery concerning an ancient record reputed to reveal the hiding place of the vast treasure hidden in the fourteenth century by the last of the ancient Knights Templar. When the record falls into his hands, he, his granddaughter, his close friends, and the grandson of the friend whom he considers a brother scramble to follow the directions given before whoever wants Obie dead can succeed in taking his life.
Obie’s granddaughter, Mac, is an accomplished climber and loves rappelling. Though a student at SSU in Utah, she spends as much time as possible with her grandfather. Charley is a student as well, but attends school in Oregon. His parents recently died in a car accident, leaving him and his grandfather, Peter, the only remaining members of their family. Feeling he needs to get to know his grandfather better, he opts to spend his semester break in Utah with him. Two more elderly men round out the main characters of the story; Jack, raised as an orthodox Jew who suffered a heart attack sometime in the recent past, and Bill, a huge black man who retired from a California police department a decade earlier.
The four elderly friends are avid golfers who love to tease each other and use quotes from old movies, books, scriptures, and once famous people. Much of the book is taken up with deciphering the ancient record and following its instructions which takes them through a large portion of Southern Utah, including Zions Park, Parowan, and many small communities and isolated canyons near Cedar City and St. George. Numerous attempts are made on their lives and a great deal of skill and ingenuity are necessary to stay ahead of the men attempting to kill them and take over the ancient document that is guiding them to the treasure.
Mac and Charley gradually get acquainted though they remain wary of each other for a long time. Only the demanding and dangerous situation surrounding them and their elderly cohorts gradually teaches them to trust each other.
The characters are developed precisely for the role they each play. Their dialog, their expressions, their physical limitations, and even their supposed misinterpretations play an important part in the story. They’re lovable and are easily relatable to grandparents or other elderly people the reader knows and loves. Mac and Charley, too, are characters the reader can relate to as they excel in some areas, but harbor a long list of real and imagined social failures in other areas. The romance between them is low key and takes a long time to become a significant part of the story. The background or setting for this novel is as rich and realistic as the canyons, red rocks, and azure lakes of Southern Utah and reveals the author’s personal knowledge of Utah’s wild places.
One aspect of this book that will challenge most readers is the mixture of languages used in the clues the group follows, but the author does an excellent job of explaining the various words, sentence structure, and the reason for jumbling together English, Spanish, Hebrew and two Native American tongues in first an English format then one used by ancient Hebrews.
Like Durbin’s first book, Swords of Joseph, this is not a novel readers will quickly forget. It is one I thoroughly recommend.
M.R. Durbin was born in California, but grew up in Parowan, Utah. He served a mission to England and is a graduate of Brigham Young University with an MA from Utah State University. He has worked as a teacher, coach, and Principal.
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BEYOND THE NARROWS by M.R. Durbin, published by Covenant Communications, 295 pages, soft cover $16.99. Also available on CD and for eReaders.
A DATE WITH DANGER by Kari Iroz
Kari Iroz combines Mystery/Suspense with Chick Lit for an offbeat adventure in a Date With Danger. Jacklyn Wyatt, better known as Jack, is a BYU coed who is twenty-five and still hasn’t settled on a major. Her number one interest is men and, of course, dating. Her large, nosy family pushes her relentlessly to find “the one” and get married. Her sister goes so far as to register her on a dating site. Suddenly she suspects she is being stalked when she spots the same man everywhere she goes.
Jack’s suspicions are correct she discovers when the man reveals he works for the FBI and has purposely let her see him the last few days, but has actually been following her for several weeks. It seems a young woman disappeared a few weeks ago who was registered with the same dating site as the one where her sister placed her profile and that eight of the ten men who responded to her ad also responded to the missing girl’s profile. Suddenly Jack finds herself recruited to help find the missing girl by dating each of the men who responded to both girls with the FBI eavesdropping and keeping watch. A dating frenzy ensues with Jack equipped with a small device in her ear to allow communication with special Agent Damon Wade. The men she dates range from shy and awkward to egotistical wolves and in the process it is Damon with whom she begins to establish a real relationship. When another girl goes missing who dated some of the same men, Damon’s boss dismisses Jack and arrests a man Jack feels certain isn’t the guilty party, so she continues investigating on her own.
Jack is a fun, though a little inconsistent character. Her portrayal as a young woman attending BYU to catch a husband feeds into the common myth of BYU’s purpose, but does so in clever fun ways. Damon’s personality fits the story, but is also a bit stereotyped as the serious, nothing-but-business lawman . Her commitment to the Church and his distancing himself from it isn’t developed enough to be a strong aspect of the story. The dialog fits the characters and adds a sense of immediacy. The dates are whacky and fun while keeping the reader guessing as to the identity of the kidnapper and the motive behind the crimes.
Kari Iroz lives in Utah with her husband and two little girls. She writes comedy and speculative fiction.
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A DATE WITH DANGER by Kari Iroz, published by Covenant Communications, 246 pages, paperback $15.99. Also available for eReaders.