"A quietly shocking page-turner that chooses to be poetic instead of preachy. The Finale is truly jolting."– Kirkus Reviews
Orvis (The Place, 2015) tells a sprawling tale of a Utah family, set against the upheavals of the mid-20th century.
It’s 1950 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Rusty Van Cott has been mortally injured in a gas tank explosion, and his siblings, including his best friend and brother, Bud; his mother; and assorted in-laws surround his hospital bed. Rusty’s injuries overwhelm Bud, but the sight sends his mind tumbling through memories of riding the rails as a bum in the early 1930s, fighting the Japanese on an island during World War II, and surviving a poor childhood under the abusive rule of their alcoholic father, Kurt. The moment that shaped Bud’s life, however, was the dynamite blast that blew off several fingers. Already dyslexic and a poor speaker, the accident left him with only “buds” on one hand, with which he nevertheless became a military sharpshooter. Through most of their lives, Bud and Rusty were inseparable because they shared an understanding: Rusty was handsome, swaggering, and fearless, while Bud followed in his shadow, enjoying a spiritual awakening that nobody else in their Mormon community approved of. Author Orvis thrives on luring readers into dark corners and offers page after page of gritty Americana. Most of the chapters are from Bud’s perspective—though a few belong to his mother, Opal—and his memories flow smoothly through the eras. Segments focusing on boxcar hobos, Japanese soldiers, and Kurt’s frequently unleashed belt are studies in violence. These are balanced by scenes in Utah’s splendid wilderness; the meditative Bud says, “Nobody knew how I thought or what I felt. Maybe that’s the way I hid my power.” The story is all the more harrowing considering that many of the grisly details of the Van Cotts’ survival—like eating the neighbor’s cats—plausibly happened to some families, somewhere. The thinnest element of the narrative is Kurt, who, as the villain, deserves to be more fleshed out. Otherwise, Orvis cuts deeply indeed.
An underdog tale for readers with steel nerves.
In Orvis’ (In the Mousehole, 2014) romantic thriller, a woman tries to resolve her fantastic double life.
Elizabeth Owens grew up in Anaheim, California, with knowledge of a beatific realm called The Place. Cesya, a visitor from The Place, found Elizabeth in her playhouse when she was 6. Moments later, her father, in a dark rage, destroyed the playhouse, leaving the child with an experience no adult could fathom. Now, Elizabeth can mentally visit The Place while closing her eyes and experience both the past and present through Cesya. Cesya has three friends: Andon, Jaholla, and Nye. Each has a special gift to contribute to the ethereal Place; Cesya’s is to read thoughts. Though invasive, the ability helps her realize that Nye is power mad and wants to thwart the mysterious Decision. Meanwhile, Elizabeth, an introvert, is assaulted by a masked stranger. To cope, she takes the advice of her therapist, Dr. Bridgeman, and socializes more. This leads to romance with both her neighbor Jess and the detective investigating her assault, Gus. When Nye begins manipulating Elizabeth’s visits to The Place, however, revealing his hatred for her, she must understand the secret connection between her two worlds to survive. Author Orvis stirs up a mix of remembrance, romance, and paranoia in this briskly paced thriller. She assembles a long bench of potential lovers and suspects to keep Elizabeth, and readers, guessing until the end. The Place is a near paradise where “we don’t question everything like we do here. We are very accepting and live our lives in peace.” Orvis convincingly conveys the plights of both introversion and romantic longing with lines like, “Just standing near him scorched my self-confidence.” The finale is truly jolting.
A quietly shocking page-turner that chooses to be poetic instead of preachy.
An interior designer becomes the unwitting target of a covert, lethal group in Orvis’ (Rough Cut, 2015, etc.) romantic thriller.
After two men accost Olivia Paxton, it’s soon revealed that they’re the irate brothers of a woman named Nina, who’s been sleeping with Olivia’s husband, Cole Paxton. Nina is pregnant, they say, and Cole has allegedly been abusing her. Not long afterward, Olivia finds out that her husband gave her chlamydia. Meanwhile, she puzzles over a cryptic note that he dropped: a phone number and the initials “N.R.” Could it be Nina? It’s Olivia’s discovery of the note that scares Cole the most, as it’s connected to his involvement with a clandestine group that’s proven itself capable of murder. Cole flees before armed men show up at their house, but Olivia is rescued by gardener Derek Olsen, an apparent secret agent who’s been investigating the mysterious organization. He and Olivia go into hiding and soon develop mutual romantic feelings as they try to dig up clues about who, exactly, is after them. The romance between Olivia and Derek in Orvis’ novel may be predictable, but it’s unquestionably well-earned. The brisk narrative devotes a copious number of pages to the relationship, but it always feels organic and believable. As the two learn more details about each other, such as why Derek blushes so often, they form a shared sense of trust. The suspense comes and goes—there are stretches with no signs of villains or viable threats— but the action does ramp up near the end. A strange but compelling plot turn reveals the organization’s purpose and origin; more importantly, it allows the story to showcase Olivia, who proves to be resourceful on her own. Occasional descriptions of technology can be confusing, though, as when Olivia plays a CD to watch a short video—which she then “rewinds” to watch again.
A tale with generous amounts of romance and peril featuring a convincing and entertaining protagonist.