Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sidetracks by Valerie Connelly

 Reviewed for Review the Book
Publisher:  Nightengale Press

Take a wild ride on the railroad to oblivion or to a better life with "sidetracks" that will define you and your outcome. What thought would go through your head while sitting in this darkened train? On one hand we have a nondescript middle-aged woman who has just fallen in the tub and cracked her skull, as an equally ordinary delivery man arrives to deliver flowers, notes water coming down the stairs and rushes to her aid, pulling her out of the tub. Peyton was able to quickly punch in to 9-1-1. But while he is trying to save her life, someone else has slipped in unnoticed, and fires shots at both before Hannah's dog attacks the assailant and is subsequently killed. A very timely visit by Lynn Hargrove, a lawyer friend of Hannah, having a gut feeling that all was not well with her friend, results in again alerting the police and ambulance for both victims, who arrive just in time.

Our two protagonists, Hannah and Peyton, next recognize, if recognize can be considered the correct word, that they appear to be riding on a train to an unknown destination, though they do not "see" each other yet. 

Hannah is the first to become aware of the train and finds herself locked in a probable stateroom alone. But wait!  welcoming her, although she seems to be nothing more than a disembodied voice, and explaining to her what has happened to her and that she will be accompanied by various "Agents" who will assist her to relive important formative parts of her life. What she learns from these times of her life will eventually help her to make choices. There will be 4 Agents along the way. If she fails she will either go back to her life on the track she is on, possibly unable to function, end her life, or carry on with her life changed and going in a new direction.  The final decision will depend on the "Processor".

Although the theme has been sometimes used in various ways in the past, Valerie Connelly has written this book as fresh, fascinating, all-encompassing and surprising, the passages and sidetracks are thought-provoking, and the end result may bring surprises. The journey and trials in this book are personal and the reader can learn a lot from them.

Being that this is essentially a murder mystery, there are many chapters interspersed with what is happening in the background of their lives during this search within themselves. There is a lot going on in all directions, with Lynn and Detective O'Riley, the cop detective who responded to the calls, in a race against time to find the attempted murderer or murderers while bodies begin to pile up. There is plenty to keep the murder-mystery fan guessing,

Back on the train, both Hannah and Peyton have discovered each other, as he has been assisted by his own Agents, and find themselves in and out of their past, first separately and in later episodes, sometimes together. The purpose of the trip is to determine if there was a "sidetrack', a time when they might have changed direction in their lives and this must play out to its final result.  Hannah has chosen a risk she had always wondered if she should have taken, and Peyton has chosen a decision of wealth found where he might have changed his life around. These sidetracks are played out for them to a certain point and they are returned to the train once again.

While they are taking these journeys of self, Lynn and Detective O'Riley are trying to make progress in the case. There are many sidetracks here, too, or perhaps more "red herrings"; just who was the intended victim and why are more people being killed. What exactly is going on in this case, are they related or separate?

Meanwhile, back on the train, there are more stops to be made, but the Agents are now showing them some definitely undesirable outcomes in this imaginary route they have taken.  This being the last trip, they will face a Tribunal, a decision on their fates will be decided by what they have learned and what track they will want to take. A decision that will be made by the "Processor" after hearing what they have learned.

This book took my attention right from the start.  The theme is fascinating in its growth and direction, the murder mystery is well-written, and I could hardly wait to see the final conclusion. I found myself rooting for this or that to happen, there are surprises, happy times, disturbing times, and confusing times, all wrapped up in a neat little bundle. While reading about the sidetracks, I found myself thinking along those lines, but decided I took the right track after all. Now to live up to it. I feel an affinity with the four main characters in the book, a sign of an excellent writer.

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