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J.A. Squires is the pen name for two friends who have been working and playing together for nearly three decades. One is a working anthropologist who is past president of the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology and a founding member of the American Anthropology Association’s Practicing Anthropology Working Group and the Committee on Practicing, Applied and Public Interest Anthropology. The other is an award-winning author and playwright whose work has appeared in 15 countries and has been translated into 12 languages. Both enjoy travel and mysteries—the perfect combination for their protagonist’s vocation!
on Dec. 28, 2011 :
Readers of this review should be aware that this press has published some of my crime fiction and I am acquainted with the publisher, though not with the two authors writing under a single pseudonym.
The protagonist is named Irene Adler. Not the woman who beat Sherlock Holmes at his own game, her modern namesake, a Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology at Boston University. Adler has a demi-cynical outlook on life and it turns out she supplements her income by playing poker; specifically Texas Holdem in the gambling parlors around the New England area. Irene Adler is a bright, smart, single woman, an endearing protagonist.
Her former advisor, a fellow faculty member, prevails on Ms. Adler to travel to Nepal to inquire into the life and times of a former fellow undergraduate student of Irene’s, a Margot Smith, who’s in Nepal doing research on one of that country’s goddesses, one Chwwaassa Dyo. The problem is that there appears to something awry with Margot and her physician husband and Adler is supposed to sort things out. What needs sorting turns out to be only part of the story. Irene agrees to go half-way around the world to see a woman she barely knows. From this most unlikely beginning, the plot drives poor Adler into one complexity after another.
Her assignment clearly has unstated dimensions about which neither we readers nor Irene Adler herself are clear. Now, Nepal is an exotic nation from which assaults on Mount Everest are mounted and the ubiquitous Sherpa play an important part, as do digital cameras, former Cold War adversaries, political unrest in the country, and a whole series of meddlesome individuals who seem to still show up on the fringes of the former English Empire.
The novel winds its way through a variety of conflicts among wanderers, a boorish American tourist couple, and murder and bomb blasts. At times the narrative suffers from a pedestrian pace and some lapses of editing discipline over the point of view. Still, the story is interesting, Irene is definitely a character to build a series around, the exotic setting in and around Katmandu is, well, exotic, and a satisfactory conclusion is fashioned. I think four stars in too strong a rating, but the novel is more enjoyable than three stars would indicate. Sample the novel and make your own judgment.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)
on Dec. 24, 2011 :
It didn’t take me even twenty pages to fall for Irene Adler. By page twenty I told myself I wouldn’t even care if this book didn’t develop a plot—I’d keep reading it just for the enjoyment of Irene’s self-deprecating humor and her acute and amusing commentary on the people (and the macaw) in her life. Happily, “Assignment: Nepal” isn’t short on plot either—all in all, a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Adler, named for “the only woman to outsmart Sherlock Holmes,” is an anthropologist with a taste for adventure who hoped her doctorate would open doors. (“It had opened doors, all right. Classroom doors.”) Her former academic advisor Dr. Herbert--who reminds her of Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit, but who may not be as scattered as he seems—convinces her to visit a fellow anthropologist and former classmate in Nepal.
Something fishy is going on in Nepal, although Dr. Herbert is less than forthcoming about exactly what he wants her to investigate. Irene is bored enough with academic life--and flush enough from her poker-playing, to take the bait anyway. What follows is an enjoyable travelogue-cum-mystery, involving Nepalese politics and culture, Hindu religious practices, and most of all, people.
The book itself is the collaborative effort of two authors writing under the assumed single name of J.A. Squires, and I hope someday to read an interview about their writing process. To create such a strong narrative voice with two people at the helm is a noteworthy accomplishment indeed. Wherever the lines may have been between the two author’s separate contributions, the result is a seamless product—and (tantalized by the implied promise of the word “series” in reference to this stand-alone book) I’m anxiously awaiting the next installment.
(reviewed within a week of purchase)