“The Life You Save May Be Your Own
“The Life You Save May Be Your Own
from my blog review:
If the title of my review seems far less original than that of the novel it explores, that's because there are some clichés that well-earn their familiarity. For example, if overheard conversations, mistaken and assumed identity, and misdirected letters (nowadays more prevalent as lost or stolen e-mail correspondence and hacked computer files) are not fresh enough for your taste in fiction, then the entire suspense/thriller genre probably isn't either. Alana Woods deploys them all--there's even a diary--but recombination is everything.
Far more compelling than these stock conventions are the book's two main characters, David Cameron (you may need a pen handy to keep track of his several aliases,) but more especially Noel Valentine, a heroine worthy of a series--though Woods doesn't appear to be setting us up for one. Among all of fiction's many self-made detectives, few are given a motive for their investigations--which lead them into all manner of professional and personal hazard--more credible than simple money. The universal catalyst, serviceable for everyone from Sam Spade to Jim Rockford. Oh, other reasons have been invented among the better writers: egomania for Sherlock Holmes, or the occasional impressment into service (Rick Deckard.) Woods' David, like Hamlet, was bequeathed the task by his dead father. Good thing for audiences, too--for it doesn't always wash, that the motives of those seeking truth are the identical ones held by those seeking to cover it up.
For Noel Valentine, the impetus necessary for the pursuit of semi-comatose David's nearly successful assassins, leading to discovery of several convolutions of corporate wrongdoing, surfaces from the depths of her very plausible, damaged psychology. "Why not go to the police?," she's asked at several points, and the answer simply lies outside the realm of logic and reason.
Sure, she wants to ensure the man she dragged from a fiery car wreck heals, she wants a prestigious account at her PR firm, she wants the perks of her boss' favor. It all makes sense, yet none of it is really accurate. In fact, one of the latent enjoyments of the novel is witnessing how many different misogynistic interpretations of her behavior can be put upon Noel by the old boys' network, projecting their own malfeasance onto a vulnerable target. "If there's one thing I hate, it's a dirty, double-crossing dame," says one of the villains of the Hollywood noir classic The Killers, and apparently little has changed in three-quarters of a century. Woods' heroine must also endure multiple layers of claustrophobic pressure: from the confines of her tiny flat invaded by her healing counterpart, to sexual pressure from her boss and a nefarious client, and finally to the crushing depths of the sea itself.
No, for Noel, investigation is first about living dangerously--perhaps subconsciously attempting to carry out a long-time suicide wish of her own--and later, about simply living. In fact, when the bad guys provide her with the perfect opportunity to slip quietly into that good night, guiltlessly in the world's eyes and her own, it's only then can she recover the id-energy to carry on and survive that her efforts on David's behalf have been attempting to revivify all along. That scene of crucible is worth the price of admission alone, straying so far as it does from the strictures of the genre, and invoking naturalistic archetypes from more high-brow literary fiction like Kate Chopin's The Awakening, and even some Hemingway.
What difficulties there are can be faced down within the first half of the novel, which gathers much steam afterward--though thankfully eschewing many of the predictable action-elements we may expect (no car chases, and just a little obligatory gunplay.) Sex, naturally, plays its role, though not overdone. Woods provides several of her majors with fully stocked families, and various minor characters fill out the cast, necessitating full attention to relationships. As for the geography, the locales of Cairns and Sydney, while well-described, may feel less familiar to non-Australian readers than we'd like. However, it's exactly this transportation of time, place, and generally stretching beyond the constricting neighborhood of the known-comfortable, among landscapes ranging to the deep psychic, that many will appreciate most.
“"Imbroglio" is an absorbing plunge into the life of Noel Valentine: an ad executive who boldly pulls helpless David Cameron from a burning car. Normally such an act of courage would merit a heroine's welcome and afford her the accompanying spoils. But instead, Noel's deeds simply spoil her life. For soon, the man she saved--and the man who saved her job while she recovered--press into action every ounce of Noel's determination as she finds herself a damsel in distress. One spinning out of control and being dragged down by the powerful currents of a consuming conspiracy of corporate greed and lust. It confuses a clear view of who is Noel's friend and who is her foe. That is the suspenseful essence of "Imbroglio."
Alana Woods skillfully constructs an authentic conspiracy-mystery that shines with strong characterization throughout, particularly where leading characters Noel Valentine and David Cameron are concerned. Noel is a thoroughly modern woman (whose traits shift appropriately from quiet and careful to driven and a bit hasty when necessary). Her voice and actions also come across as believably feminine in quality. David Cameron's physical and mental recovery (and his careful immersion into the plot) is handled with deliberate attention to detail, enhancing "Imbroglio's" nebulous air. And Woods's villains are suitably sinful, but not easily seen--perfect for setting up one of the story's biggest surprises.
Also admirable is the story's vivid setting: a modern, cosmopolitan Australia. Centered largely in metropolitan Sydney and Cairns, the scenic cityscape provides a welcomed relief from the outback, jack-and-jillaroo station image that many foreigners too-easily associate all of "the land down under" with.
"Imbroglio's" only flaw is its rather involved network of secondary characters. While the definition of imbroglio (a confusing situation) would justify an elaborate cast to handle the task, most classic mystery-suspenses have a faster, more direct pace. Imbroglio's secondary players sometimes detract from that point a-to-point b flow, thus stalling the building suspense and intensity in places.
So overall, if you want a quick, roller coaster ride of a read, "Imbroglio" probably won't do it for you. But if you're looking for an intelligently-written, maturely-crafted conspiracy-mystery (and one also wonderfully set against the sumptuous scenery of rarely seen cities) "Imbroglio" is a satisfying, high-quality novel well-worth losing yourself in. ”