Since I was a little girl I wanted to be a storyteller. At recess time I would gather some of my schoolmates and entertain them with stories—some of my own, others just summaries of books I read. When I retired, after a career as a professor of computer science at The University of Western Ontario, I reverted to my old passion. I took several e-courses on fiction writing and began putting down my plots. So far I have written eight novels, several short stories and co-authored a novella. The genre varies from romantic suspense (Mountains of Dawn, The Collage, Cross of Sapphires, Operation Woman in Black, The Red Manor) to thriller (The Jungfrau Watch, The Blackpox Threat, The Bricklayer). Most of these books are available on Amazon.com.
The Blackpox Threat won First Place in the 2012 Five Star Dragonfly Award and was a Finalist in the 2011 National Indie Excellence Award; The Bricklayer got an Honorary Mention in the 2012 San Francisco Book Competition.
Visit me at www.vermeil.biz or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Romancing the Tone:
Review of Rene Natan’s Mountain of Dawns
By Frank Mundo
Mountain of Dawns opens with a bang, literally: an explosion which kills one young woman named Kathy Alcin and injures another named Tanya Caldwell.
22 year-old Tanya Caldwell is an artist, “a dreamer” and a student at the Mackenzie Academy for the Visual Arts in Vermeil, Ontario, 80 miles outside of Toronto. “…Quiet. Well-mannered. Neat,” Tanya’s “a bit strange…like all creative people”. Orphaned as a child, Tanya dreams of dusty roads and the fosters homes she has bounced in and out of throughout her childhood. With no family, no money, and with no apparent connections to the world other than her art, Tanya seems harmless and rather insignificant in the grand scheme of things. So, why in the world would anyone want to kill her?
The explosion we learn, however, is not an accident, but a car bomb. A mob-style hit which seems to have been intended for Tanya, who had only loaned her car to her roommate for the day. Oddly enough, we learn that this isn’t the first (and won’t be the last) attempt on Tanya’s life as we follow her through the twists and turns of Rene Natan’s novel billed as a Romance/Thriller.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking: Oh no, Romance novel, right? Those cheesy books at the grocery store with a glossy, embossed picture of a pastel, ruffle-bloused Fabio and his big tan man-boobs on the cover. That’s what I was thinking too when I was asked to review it. Thankfully, this is not one of those books (which, depressingly, by the way, are among the most sellable and most sought after manuscripts in all of genre fiction these days). Mountain of Dawns is far more thrilling than romantic in that sense. As Tanya flees to the Riviera (a safe haven for her art as well) she does have a romantic affair with a publisher named Kevin Matwin, and does meet up with an Italian Count with suspicious international connections and serious clout. But the “romantic” element, if anything, is linked more to a type of storytelling made famous by “sentimental” writers of the past, writers such as Harriet Beecher Stowe or the Bronte sisters, and not the modern, escapist bologna that titillated housewives hide under their mattresses. In fact, Tanya Caldwell resembles, as a character, the character Jane Eyre in many ways, from her orphaned childhood to her mysterious ancestry and surprising windfalls.
The plot of Mountain of Dawns owes quite a bit to the plot of Charlotte Bronte’s famous feminist romance Jane Eyre as well. Those familiar with Bronte’s story know that I can’t say much more about the plot of Natan’s novel without spoiling the twists and surprising turn of events which link the innocent Tanya Caldwell to the financial motive of her corrupted and desperate would-be killers. Those unfamiliar with Jane Eyre (which I was forced to read in five different lit classes over the years) will just have to take my word for it.
Natan’s style, however, does differ from Bronte’s in that it lacks the strong biased tone and the heavy-handed ultra-sentimentalism of the old-fashion Romance novels. At times her prose even seems a bit journalistic and somewhat detached, (void of that tone or bias so apparent in those early romantic works) despite her story’s extremely personal nature and clever plot twists -- a story which closes, as it opens, with another surprising bang. Personally, I think her book might’ve benefited from a first person point-of-view, with a biased Tanya Caldwell at the wheel. After all, there’s nothing wrong with a bias in fiction. Honestly, I prefer it. I’ve even come, in many instances, to expect it. It is what creates the tone of most fiction.
But, then again, I’ve always had a bias toward the first person narrative.
Mountain of Dawns is Rene Natan’s first novel published in 1999 by Juppiter99 (available both in eBook and paperback versions) at very reasonable prices. Her other novels include Cross of Sapphires and The Collage (reviewed by Adrienne Jones and available in The Swamp’s “Review Archives“). Natan is also the author of shorter works Killing on Mount Yula, A Pair of Wings for Christmas, and Operation: Woman in Black. She is currently at work on a new novel.
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From KEMW-FM radio station Dr. Jim Lee presents Rene Natan: Interview
Where to find Rene Natan online
Where to buy in print
One Holiday, a Life-time Memory
(4.00 from 2 reviews)
By Rene Natan
Published: February 1, 2013.
Landed in Italy with the idea of spending the summer admiring the many masterpieces of Italian art, Larry Burton bumps into a girl on the run. She’s clearly in trouble, but she’s also awfully attractive. Against his best judgment, Larry decides to help her. He’s drawn into strange and potentially dangerous situations…but shouldn’t a vacation be also a bit of an adventure?
The Elf Hat
By Rene Natan
Published: November 27, 2012.
Glenda Vaillot is at the local Christmas parade when her little boy is kidnapped. Hearing impaired, and counting only on Zufolo, her service dog, Glenda hunts down the kidnappers.
A Pair of Wings for Christmas
By Rene Natan
Published: November 8, 2012.
Kendrick Malloy is a bright, healthy young man who could achieve anything in life. Unfortunately he often prefers to take shortcuts and avoid working. But when the life of six-year-old Mateo is at stake, he hesitates no more. He jumps in front of a truck and saves the boy’s life.
The Ghost Detective
By Rene Natan
Published: October 12, 2012.
PI Denys Bellami is in his office when a quake shakes the earth. Within seconds Denys becomes a guest of the White Valley, where ghosts reside.
But what about the investigation he was working on? He makes the case to the Great Light: well, Denys will be able to continue investigating but he won’t be allowed to participate in any physical actions. It’s a big challenge, but Denys accepts it.
Mountains of Dawn
(3.50 from 2 reviews)
By Rene Natan
Published: July 15, 2012.
‘Pack and Leave’ are the words that twenty-two Tanya Caldwell, orphaned at the age of six, heard many times as she wandered from foster home to foster home. After she narrowly escapes two murder attempts, she hides in the hills of the Italian Riviera. She has just found peace, inspiration for her paintings, and romance when those responsible for her parents’ death surface again.
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- Murder at the Break
on Sep. 24, 2012
It’s mayhem at Meredith University when the corpse of a philosophy professor is discovered. Barrett Wilson has been shot to death, the police conclude, and it happened when the campus was deserted because of the Christmas holiday. Dr. Charles Douglas, a professor of philosophy specializing in the work of Michael Foucault, and his wife Kate are prompted to help detectives DeVries and Bolster to discover who murdered Barrett Wilson. A number of suspects surface quickly. There is Janet Milford, Barrett’s old girlfriend, Richard Dalton, Barrett’s graduate student and lover at the time of murder, and Chet McKay, a close friend of the deceased interested in epistemology. Charles himself is not completely exempted from suspicion, as he used to have disagreements and heated discussions with his dead colleague.
As the plot unfolds, Charles discovers a mysterious list of rare books, their titles hidden under the listing of an inexistent undergraduate course. The books are collection items of great value. At first nobody can find a company that may have been involved in auctioning or buying these books. Then another murder occurs, followed by a suspicious death. The mystery thickens as a beautiful real estate agent enters the scene. It’s a conspiracy now, and Charles and Kate keep investigating, thus putting their life at risk.
Life on campus at Meredith University, located in the small town of Kingsford, is described with a keen sense of humour; the knowledge-based osmosis that exists in an academic environment is well depicted, as Charles gathers information from colleagues of different departments—often leisurely, over a cup of coffee or at lunch break.
- Sorrento Beach
on Oct. 04, 2012
Between playing volleyball on a famous Santa Monica’s beach and stringing a tennis racket, protagonist Paul Townsend plays sleuth. His friend Jack Rosen has disappeared and his house ransacked. Jack’s past is a sad one, as his family was wiped out at the end of World War II by the Russian army.
Memories of Paul’s youth at a prestigious high school in Winfield, Kansas surface here and there; his encounters with beautiful actress Jennifer Ryan are full of passion and desire, while a new romance appears on the horizon.
As the search for Jack progresses the name of Jerry Moberg comes up; when Paul and his friend Tom Ruderman pay a visit to Jerry they are mystified by what they learn. Jack Rosen, aka Isaiah Rosenberg is part of a spying ring involving selling cutting-edge technologies to the Russians. Ivan Sokolov, a movie producer from Germany, enters the scene but the man is not who appears to be; the mystery thickens and soon “Townie” finds out that playing detective can be a very dangerous game.
- Buried In Benidorm
on Nov. 14, 2012
A defrocked priest becomes a PI…a corpse is buried in a sand bunker for a golfer to find…What better start?
On the insistence of the bishop in Alicante, Max Castillo investigates the murder of Anthony Ortega, a real estate businessman of dubious repute. A young woman, Caridad, and a young man, Aurelio, whom Max helped when he was at the service of the church, are useful connections in providing him with information and protection against dangerous criminals who don’t want Max to dig into Ortega’s past.
Old and new crimes, and carefully guarded secrets are revealed as the story proceeds. There are speculative transactions--the buying and selling of parcels of land along the Costa Blanca--in which the Alicante diocese is involved; the old relationship of a retired priest with two altar boys; the infidelity of beautiful Esperanza, Ortega’s wife; the murder of Hilario Miguel, Ortega’s business partner on the verge of bankruptcy; competitions and gambling at the La Blanca golf course; the attempt of a French criminal ring to extort money from a local gangster…
Aboard his boat, anchored in the Benidorm harbor, Max spends time meditating on the need for religious believes, and on the reasons he abandoned the priesthood. His frequent meditations are accompanied by equally frequent intakes of beer.
Consulting the land registry of Gandia and vicinity (where most of Ortega’s properties are located) allows Max to pinpoint the culprits.
In a meeting reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s climatic finales, Max convenes all the people even marginally involved in the two murders and, with the help of inspector Nicky Garcia, offers proof of the murderers’ culpability.
My take on the book. Set in Spain, “Buried in Benidorm” is a refreshing mystery where violence is present (as required by the genre) but not glorified. The suspense is built step by step, scene by scene; several personas populate the story and almost each of them is a candidate for murder.
Written by Rene Natan, www.vermeil.biz
First place, 2012 Five Star Dragonfly Award for the Blackpox Threat
Finalist in the 2011 National Indie Excellence Award for the Blackpox Threat
Honorary Mention, 2012 San Francisco Book Competition for the Bricklayer