The Hurricane Stew by Martine Wolfe-Miller

The Hurricane Stew

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A group of friends tries to solve a mystery that revolves around rare art as a devastating hurricane approaches.

This debut mystery/thriller braids two intersecting plotlines. Dr. Charles Holzer, the president of the Watson School of Arts in North Carolina, has zealously pursued the illicit collection of a valuable storehouse of expensive art on the school’s dime over the last 15 years. His intention is to sell a modest portion of it on the black market for an immodest sum, more than enough to finance his retirement in Tuscany. He fires Dr. John Wilson, dean of the Fine Arts Department, to ensure his nefarious project remains undetected. Meanwhile, a group of friends gathers at Bunnie’s old-style Southern home—she’s a secretary at Watson. Sophie, a graduate art student, lives at Bunnie’s house as a boarder, and David, a self-employed piano tuner, often stops by to work on the piano there or to just seek company and a home-cooked meal. Dr. Marie Caldwell—Wilson’s replacement—and her young daughter Isabelle join the crew as well. Bunnie and Marie become increasingly suspicious of Charles, who frantically tasks them with the authentication of documents relevant to his art collection. As their interest piques, they start to conduct an investigation of their own. Meanwhile, a potentially destructive hurricane looms, and Bunnie’s friends help her to prepare the house for the worst, as well as for their eventual evacuation. All of them wrestle with complex, painful pasts: David is tortured by the memory of his ex-wife, who was an alcoholic and serially unfaithful. Marie is haunted by the death of her husband in a canoeing accident. And Sophie is in the throes of starting a new life, which requires her to upset her family and fiance. In this exciting tale, Wolfe-Miller displays a keen sense for the cadence of suspense—the impending hurricane accentuates the hurtling pace toward an action-packed conclusion. Charles’ character, though, seems out of place in the book, an avaricious cartoon villain amid realistically drawn people grappling with heartfelt problems. The complicated story is also overstocked with tangential subplots and narrative asides. The author should have taken the sage writing advice Sophie gives to Bunnie about her own novel: “ ‘Remember, less is more.’ Sophie cautioned. ‘Stay on task and focus on the main plot.’ ”

A rousing drama especially suitable for art lovers but unfortunately weighed down by convolution.

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher
Program: Kirkus Indie
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