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OUT OF MIND by Catherine Sampson

Publisher: Mysterious Press ISBN 0 89296 814 1

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Nothing is more likely to make an investigative reporter want to investigate than being told she shouldn't.  Especially when she's being told by her employer,  a huge news corporation.

Several years after the birth of her twins and their father's subsequent death. Robin Ballantyne returns to work.  Almost at once she's in strife, when her bosses decide that they don't want Robin to feature Melanie Jacobs on her new missing persons show.

Robin finds this puzzling, since Melanie's disappearance was  a news topic at the time, and because she was also an employee of the Corporation.  Could her bosses be covering up something? 

Robin's investigating leads her up a number of dangerous paths in search of the elusive Mike Darling, who may know something about Melanie's disappearance--indeed, may even have been responsible.  The deeper she digs, the more reasons she finds for someone to have wanted Melanie dead, including some very shadowy--not to say shady-- military types.

All the while Robin is trying to get to the bottom of the mystery, she's having to juggle a very complex private life, including her divorced parents, squabbling sisters, a baby sitter who is beginning to run out of patience, and her policeman boyfriend Finney.

This is a fast-paced, topical novel that deals with, among other things, the control of news by those who own the news-gathering and reporting companies.  It may make you stop and consider where you are getting your daily news from, and ask yourself  what motivates them.  If you agree with the premise that a book should not just entertain and inform, but also make you think, you'll like this one.



Tabula Rasa by Shelly Reuben

Publisher: Harcourt ISBN: 015101079X

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

Shelly Reuben has written six books, five of them novels, four of those fire- or arson-related. Book Six, Tabula Rasa, is a worthy addition to her oeuvre.

For those who donít speak Latin (like me), Tabula Rasa means ďblank slate.Ē Thatís describes Baby Tuttle, the child whose parents couldnít be bothered to name her. Baby is almost totally neglected by her parents, kept alive only through the attention of her brother and sister. At eleven and nine, they do the best they can, but theyíre eleven and nine.

When a fire destroys the Tuttle home and kills brother and sister, the year-old Baby manages to crawl away, to be found by Fire Marshal Billy Nightingale. Billy has suspicions about kindly Ma Tuttle. His sister Annie and her state trooper husband are able to convince a well-drawn (if less than conscientious) social worker to let them hang onto to Baby as foster parents for a while.

Reubenís story is full of the most satisfying kinds of twists: surprising, yet ultimately believable. The plot never goes quite where itís expected. Doing this without disorienting the reader is no mean feat, and Reuben makes it easy to suspend your disbelief by keeping the story grounded in realistic locations and stable, somewhat larger than life, characters.

Reubenís background as a fire and arson investigator serve her well. Her comfort with the subject of fire allows her the freedom and confidence to let the realism of the fire scenes come through without feeling obligated to beat you over the head with every bit of research sheís done.

Reubenís writing style is what ultimately makes Tabula Rasa successful. The narrator speaks directly to the reader, sticking in occasional pithy or emotional asides between the lines when possible. Reubenís style is somewhat reminiscent of the late Ed McBain: dry without being brittle, with an economy of language that allows room for the clever turn of phrase.

All of the above is more than enough for most of the book. The writing style continues, but about two-thirds of the way in, the book. Just. Stops. Doesnít end. Stops. Some information that could have been worked in gets served up in one more than bite-sized chunk. A sub-plot that serves only to set up the ending is also given disproportionate space.

Reuben tries to rev things up for the big confrontation scene at the end, but as anyone carrying a heavy weight knows, once you stop itís hell to get started again. The ending reads almost as if Reuben has figured this out, and seems almost perfunctory after the excellent beginning, going on long enough to make sure everyone feels good about whatís happened.

Quibbles about the ending aside, Tabula Rasa is an excellent read, an engrossing and well-conceived trip through not only an arson investigation, but elements of family relationships and nature vs. nurture. It is well worth anyoneís time.