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JACK NOLTE is the mystery and suspense pen name of award-winning writer Scott William Carter. Critics raved that The Gray and Guilty Sea, the first book featuring the crippled and curmudgeonly Garrison Gage, was "irresistible" and "a fascinating character study." Under his own name, Carter's first novel, The Last Great Getaway of the Water Balloon Boys, was hailed by Publishers Weekly as a "touching and impressive debut" and won the prestigious Oregon Book Award. Since then, he has published nine novels and over fifty short stories, his fiction spanning a wide variety of genres and styles. His most recent book for younger readers, Wooden Bones, chronicles the untold story of Pinocchio and was singled out for praise by the Junior Library Guild. He lives a stone's throw from the Oregon coast with his wife and two children. To find more information about Jack/Scott's other work, go to www.scottwilliamcarter.com.
on June 28, 2011 :
The Gray and Guilty Sea: Glad I stuck with it
Garrison Gage is a former private eye who has been living an anonymous life after a tragic work-related incident shattered his knee and killed his wife. Now living on the Oregon coast, he frequently walks the beach. One night he stumbles upon a dead body of a girl, and his interest piqued, he comes out of retirement to solve the mystery of her death.
One problem I had with the character, Gage, was that, from the author’s original description, I thought he was about 20 years older than he was. There were also lots of references to Gage being crippled, so with that, plus with thinking he was older than he really was, I had trouble suspending disbelief that he used brute physical strength to backhand a guy, while sitting down at a bar, to knock him off a barstool.
I almost abandoned the book due to this and some editing issues, but I’m glad I didn’t. I enjoyed the carefully developed plot and many of the interesting characters I encountered. I had a bit of a hard time believing the “perfect match” between the reporter and Gage but I did enjoy their interactions and found their relationship enjoyable.
Nolte is a very, very good writer. His characters were 3-dimensional and dynamic, his subplots were good and he kept the story moving at a good pace. Nolte kept me guessing the murderer’s identity almost to the very end. On the downside, the version I read had many editing errors and some minor content inconsistencies. I pointed these out to the author he assured me he would fix them. He thought they were already addressed but it sounds like there were some problems with multiple versions of the file and/or not having the correct one uploaded to the site. With all the editing errors fixed, I would give this book 4.5 stars. The version I read I’d give about a 3.5 star. I’m splitting the difference and giving it 4. Hopefully future reviewers will read a cleaner version. Definitely worth the read either way!
Note: The author provided me a complimentary copy of The Gray and Guilty Sea in exchange for my review.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)
on March 20, 2011 :
Garrison Gage is a recluse in a tiny town, a retired private detective who looks at the world through a jaundiced eye. One could hardly blame him: his last case in New York left him a widower and a cripple. Passing his days with crossword puzzles and solitude, his gumshoe instincts are reawakened when he comes across a random dead girl on the beach. So much for retirement.
In The Gray and Guilty Sea, Nolte draws us in right from the get-go. Everything after that is a fast-paced story that keeps you wondering what the next location or contact will reveal. The path is not so much twisted as it is hidden; there are no sudden surprises, but the mystery still takes some time, and a great deal of Gage's energy, to unravel. Woven into the fabric are subplots involving a love interest and an ailing neighbor, as well as said neighbor's teenage granddaughter. Nolte successfully develops these without detracting from the main storyline, adding depth to Gage's character without losing steam.
With his crotchety personality and his love of getting under other people's skins, Gage is a good representation of a character who would be irritating to work with but thoroughly entertaining to observe. His analysis of those around him is spot-on, thus earning a reader's trust in his abilities as a private detective. Unfortunately, other parts of his persona were a bit less credible.
Gage is touted to be a well-versed reader, a connoisseur of jazz, an appreciator of art, and yet a man of simple pleasures. This isn't to say that a person can't be that complex, but something about the presentation of these personality traits —subtle shifts in Gage's speaking style, perhaps — make them difficult to integrate. Instances of him reading philosophy or listening to Coltrane might have boosted the legitimacy of these claims. In a similar manner, the commonality of interests between him and Carmen is a little too perfect, and equally unsupported from his previous interactions with her. Mysteries have a tendency to turn readers into skeptics, digging deeper into characters than they might otherwise do; thus the bar for characterizations is set that much higher. In the end, I disregarded the extraneous information in order to avoid losing faith in the rest of the story.
For the most part, the novel is well-written, with a delivery that is efficient without becoming brusque. It meshed well with Gage's voice, his inner monologues flowing seamlessly into his spoken words. Even so, there were scattered passages in which it was glaringly obvious that someone breezed through the editing process. Awkwardly worded sentences, as well as multiple issues with homophones (eg. "waved" for "waived", "not" for "naught") were bothersome, but what really got me were two instances in which characters' names were actually changed: "Tommy" for "Jimmy" and "Angie" for "Zoe". They jarred me right out of the storyline, and it took some effort to convince myself to ignore them long enough to rekindle my interest in the book.
Nolte has a good grasp of emotion and human responses and credible actions. In that respect, The Gray and Guilty Sea is quite an enjoyable novel that engages a reader on multiple levels. The ending itself was more than satisfactory. Still, convenient coincidences and forced details diminished its plausibility. Methinks that Gage's cynicism is contagious.
Stimulated Outlet Book Reviews
(Review copy provided by the author)
(reviewed long after purchase)