SOUNDING DRUM by Larry Jay Martin


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An awkwardly plotted cautionary tale that speculates, unsuccessfully, about what Native Americans, scheming businessmen, and Sicilian mobsters might do if a document turned up that gave a valuable patch of Manhattan real estate back to the Indians. Two clever premises jump-start Martin’s debut thriller. The first takes the form of a crusty piece of 17th-century parchment discovered in a crypt behind the basement walls of a Manhattan skyscraper. The second is the author’s smart decision to give Native American origins to his hero, handsome but driven gambling industry analyst Stephen Drum; to his heroine, archaeologist Paula Fox; and to most of the supporting cast. Martin does a nice job of showing how different tribal customs, upbringings, and relationships with American ethnic groups shape the protagonists” understanding of good and evil, as well as their thoughts about what to do with an ancient deed that, if authentic, might solve the financial problems of every Native American forever. But then, alas, he clutters up this strong material with a revenge melodrama involving loathsome industrialist Alex Dragonovich, who may have murdered Drum’s father during a drunken tussle on a Montana reservation, and with a star-crossed romance in which Stephen pines for Angela Giovanni, whose father a preposterously rich Mafia chieftain, would rather have her marry an Italian. Nor is the narrative enriched by Martin’s attempt to demonstrate that gambling on reservations just might give Native Americans the financial and political clout to take charge of their destiny—if they can overcome petty rivalries, become more businesslike, and beat the casino moguls at their own game. Discursive flashbacks, gloating villains, and much table-talk in atmospheric Manhattan eateries fail to convince as Drum plans to transform Midtown into a reservation and open up Rockefeller Center as a casino. A double-zero.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-57566-368-6
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Kensington
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1999