Recent written articles express concern about the "dumbing down" of students in the United States. The American educational system, some say, is effectively lessening the reading abilities (and so also the expectations) of their graduates. Judging by the fact that Stuart Woods' Orchid Blues is now an apparent best seller, there is true cause for that concern.
This, the second book of two "Holly Barker" mysteries, is book writing by the numbers. It consists of uninspired writing, an almost total lack of character development, and a plot that would make a screenwriter of B-movies blush with shame. The quality of writing is such that this book is really little more than a screenplay. Much of the writing is conversational, as though a recorded tape had simply been transcribed onto paper. That would be fine if the conversation contained some cleverness or wit. Unfortunately, for the most part, it does not.
The primary characters in this book are Holly Barker, a small-town police chief, and her father, Ham (who actually plays a bigger role throughout than Holly. Holly is, for large portions of the book, really a peripheral character). The book opens with a bank robbery in which Jackson Oxenhandler, Holly Barker's fiance, is brutally shot down with a shotgun blast minutes prior to walking down the aisle. Holly's response to this devastating loss (well, devastating for anyone else) is to get in her car and go to work after viewing Jackson's remains. Holly expresses very little grief over Jackson's death. Perhaps she'll truly grieve when her dog, Daisy, passes on.
Convenient "coincidences" abound to move the plot along. During the course of going to the bank, Jackson (minutes before being killed) struck up a conversation with another customer. This customer just happens to be an ex-member of the force who tells Holly there was something "familiar" about the bank robbery and who then relates to her what he knows. Very convenient.
A little investigation brings Ham and Holly to a road that goes by Lake Winachobee. Here we get another plot convenience as their auto runs into a line of traffic and is diverted down a dirt road directly to a gun show that the bank robbers they seek are holding. It's a private show, but thanks to "luck" Holly and Ham are there. They almost immediately strike up a conversation with a fellow named Peck who is the very person who planned the bank robbery. If only all investigations went so smoothly. During the course of the private gun-show, in which strangers are not welcome (excepting Holly and Ham), there is exhibited much firepower with bullets flying and buses exploding. All this, yet no one (in police authority) is aware of a) the gun show, and b) the existence of the group offering the show. Yes, the gun show is supported by a group that just happens to be an extremely secretive paramilitary group that hates the United States. They are the sponsors of the gun show. This is a group so secretive that no one in the FBI, CIA, etc., are aware of their existence, and yet they choose to maintain their secrecy by giving conspicuous gun shows beneath a tent large enough to hold a three-ring circus? They are so secretive that apparently the only way to ferret out knowledge of this group is to take a drive down the highway and "accidentally" get diverted down a dirt road to their gun show.
Peck is also very near the top rung of leadership in this paramilitary group. Needless to say at this point, Peck is smitten with Ham and almost immediately invites him to join the group. Another plot convenience. Not a lot of effort required to infiltrate this "highly secretive" group. Ham is then (also almost immediately) one of the most trusted of the group and is offered the responsibility of completing an assassination that has been planned for quite a while. Who was to do the assassination prior to Ham's arrival we do not know, but it's the now trusted Ham who gets the nod from the group's leadership. Let's see, he's been a "member" of this group for how many days now...?
Things move along from there pretty much as expected. There is some little suspense here and there, some legitimate and some quite forced. In the author's favor, it must be said that Stuart Woods does exhibit in this book some technical knowledge of guns and electrical equipment.