on April 15, 2011 :
The Magpie’s Secret
By G.J. Lau
$0.99 at Smashwords.com
G.J. Lau has written a thriller with romance, politics, family complications, and, of course, secrets.
Frank Martinelli is an ordinary guy, if you take into account the effects a tour in Vietnam in his 20s and the disappearance of his daughter on her way back to college 20 years ago will have on a man. He lives in a pleasant town not far from Washington, D.C., where he worked for the Office of Management and Budget until he retired. His inability to get past the disappearance of their daughter resulted in divorce, although he and his ex-wife are still friendly.
Frank lives above a bar, and the bar’s owner and one of the bartenders are like family to him. He makes extra spending money by helping out at a funeral home when they need an extra usher, parking attendant, or pallbearer, and at a car dealer shuttling vehicles from one dealership to another.
All in all, his life is pretty mundane, and his schedule is predictable. Until one afternoon when a man asks to join him as he’s eating lunch outside at a neighborhood restaurant. That conversation turns Frank’s well-ordered life upside down.
The “stranger” turns out to be Thomas Clayton, who served briefly with Frank in Vietnam. When Thomas left the Army, he took what he had learned and became an assassin for hire. Thomas is essentially retired now and only takes special assignments. He tells Frank that someone tried to hire him to kill him. Thomas declined (seeing as how they had been Army buddies and Frank had done him a good turn), but the contract is still being shopped, and someone without Thomas’s scruples could easily take it up.
Although at first Frank can’t imagine why someone would to have him killed, paranoia becomes a constant companion, particularly after his ex-wife Emily’s condo is broken into.
Not long after Frank’s daughter disappeared, he had volunteered at a teen hotline and talked frequently with one particular young woman. He sensed that she was being sexually molested, but he had no proof. When he reads in the paper that a teen-ager named Rachel Meadows has been killed in an auto accident on the eve of her 16th birthday, he puts it together with his hotline client. Because he feels guilty, he goes to the funeral, even though he doesn’t know the family. Rachel’s mother, Catherine, thinks it odd that a stranger is at her daughter’s funeral and seeks him out. They talk briefly, and she senses Frank knows something about Rachel he’s not saying.
Twenty years pass; Frank finds out he’s the target of an assassin; Rachel Meadows’ father dies; and Frank is asked to work the parking lot at his funeral. Catherine sees him, remembers him from her daughter’s funeral, and seeks him out. They talk again.
Catherine’s son Adam is running for political office, and Frank volunteers to work on the campaign. He likes politics, but he also wonders if Adam knows about Rachel’s abuse and the contract on him.
Just to make matters complicated, Frank is falling romantically for Catherine; he actually likes Adam, and he’s getting warnings from different sources about the contract on him.
Lau has created believable characters, including our protagonist, who finds himself in an unfathomable position as the target of an assassin. I was engaged from the moment I began reading until the end, which is unexpected and satisfying.
– Davilynn Furlow
(reviewed 21 days after purchase)
on March 4, 2011 :
The Magpie's Secret is a mystery novel set in current times with flashbacks to
previous events that influence the actions and attitudes of the central character, Frank
Martinelli. The location is somewhere on the east coast around Washington D.C. and
I applaud Mr. Lau for his story telling skill and creation of the plot. I didn't finish the
story in one continuous reading, but stayed with it over two evenings.
At the beginning I felt the story was a little disjointed and the character a little naive
for a sixty year old with an interest in detective novels and the TV series Law and Order.
But, toward the second half the story picked up and I was drawn into it.
My criticism of the writing mechanics is the writer switching from third person
to first person and back again, and wordiness. Too many sentences contain extraneous
words and phrases that extend the sentence without adding substance to it.
Also, further editing could have eliminated misplaced words and inserted missing
words where needed; a minor problem, not major.
As one who likes detail, I would have liked a better mental picture of the Wild Hare
bar which was a frequent scene, instead of the detailed description of the interior of a
bank that was only visited once.
My biggest personal complaint is the partisan political view inserted frequently into
the story. If I want political propaganda I'll buy a book of Political Commentary. In a
novel I expect the author to be neutral, unless the character development actually depends
on partisan opinions. I have abandoned two popular novelist and two TV shows for that
But overall I rate the story a four out of a possible five based primarily on the
strength of the overall writing and the story line. The ending was a surprise I didn't
The book was a good read and I will consider additional stories by Mr. Lau.
(reviewed 29 days after purchase)