PILLARS OF SALT by J.A.  Adams

PILLARS OF SALT

Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

In Adams’ 1980-set thriller, a U.S. Air Force major is determined to prove that his estranged father was murdered.

When Maj. Harvey “H” Doucet gets word that his father, Harvey Sr., is dead, he requests emergency leave and heads from North Carolina to Louisiana. His father’s successful company, Doucet Drilling, is already dealing with another recent tragedy: An oil rig drilled directly into a salt mine, killing numerous workers. Sapphire Salt filed suit against Doucet Drilling and Calco Oil, and each of the latter businesses blamed the other for the flawed map that precipitated the accident. It initially appears as if it was all too much for Harvey Sr., whose death was ruled a suicide. H and Harvey Sr. didn’t get along—H’s spoiled younger brother, Victor, was his father’s favorite—but H refuses to believe that his dad would ever kill himself. With the help of Harvey Sr.’s loyal bodyguard, Placide, he starts a personal investigation into his father’s demise. It soon becomes clear that someone doesn’t want H asking too many questions; H spots a car following him, which then tries to run him off the road. Later, he and Placide witness an explosion that was clearly meant to kill them. Their search for answers takes them to Memphis, Tennessee, where they unearth evidence of possible fraud. Before long, even H’s beloved Aunt Ethel and Uncle Louis are under threat, and another suspicious suicide only confirms that H and Placide are on the right track.

Adams’ novel begins with a bang as a Louisiana man, Auguste Savois, goes fishing with his 8-year-old grandson, and a sudden current nearly pulls their riverboat into an apparent whirlpool. This is followed by equally tense, memorable scenes inside the salt mine and aboard the oil rig. From there, Adams opts for a more leisurely pace, as H’s investigation involves interviewing myriad characters. Nevertheless, the protagonist’s family history is thoroughly engaging. Harvey Sr., for example, was so distraught by his wife’s death years ago that he focused on his company instead of his two young sons, whom Ethel and Louis raised, instead. This helps to make H’s aunt and uncle even more endearing—and makes them prime targets for the bad guys. Victor, who’s certain that he’ll inherit Doucet Drilling, generates some melodrama along the way. The author’s frequent descriptions of Louisiana reveal a clear fondness for narrator H’s home state; as H muses, “The sky was a clear, crisp blue, as oil field industry trucks and tankers roared by us on Highway 90. The rare kind of late fall day in Louisiana when the humidity drops so low that the sky is lapis lazuli, and everything looks like it’s just been scrubbed.” The story’s steady momentum gradually accelerates, and H and Placide, a former security guard who got his job after saving Harvey Sr.’s life, ultimately arm themselves. The expected gunfight doesn’t disappoint, and a subsequent wrap-up, though lengthy, delivers a worthy denouement.

Hearty backstories and a beguiling Louisiana setting enhance this compelling thriller.

Page count: 258pp
Publisher: Manuscript
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online: