EDITOR’s NOTES: This is the fifth and final week of articles that offer tips on possible books to give as Holiday Gifts. This one was saved for last because it is maybe a better book for you to buy for yourself to fill the “Christmas/Holiday week” vacation or time-off. It has plenty to distract you from the possible Christmas stress, or family politics, or COVID-fears, or boredom that you might experience! ~~ as usual, we only review books written by authors from Colorado.
This book has a split personality! The first half offers much detail, not only about the characters and how they became who they were, but about general topics that touch their lives. The second half is a well-written mystery.
The main protagonist is Corin Dunbar who is torn from her pleasant childhood home out East by the consequences of her mother’s death and sent out West to the dusty open spaces of Utah. She must live with her religious spinster aunt on the failing family cattle ranch in Paradox. The other main character who interacts with her life is Ark Stevenson. He too is torn from his simple life in the Amazon jungles, and sent by his missionary parents to England to be educated. As an adult, he is drawn to the romance of cowboys in the American West, and moves to Paradox.
The town has gone from a dreary dusty existence to being the site of multiple western movies in the 1950s. The town officials have not only brushed up its buildings, but it built an old western town on the outskirts to draw in the movie makers. Most of the characters somehow bounce an important part of their life stories off of experiences with the movie industry. Many actual movie stars and film names are mentioned, but they are just side notes in the telling of Corin’s story.
The book is like a fine game of chess. The first half has a lot of detail about the characters and their surroundings, and the second half is a basic mystery fiction story. So, the authors first build up all the information, like a game plan in chess, and then the second half is the furious chess game.
The first half of the book is full of facts, much of which are not relevant, like Ark’s favorite foods and TV shows that he watched in England as a child. However, people who love to learn new things will find these chapters highly entertaining and informative. The authors go into much detail about things like how to save the semen of a prize bull, or the multiple primitive means of transportation that it takes to get to a remote village in the Amazon jungle.
The second half of the book reads like a mystery novel. As an adult, Corin takes charge of the cattle ranch that has been in her family for three generations, and makes a success of it. She meets the compelling outsider Ark, who is her twin soul, and they get married. A tragic accident then happens, which draws in all the characters you met in the first half, and takes them into twisting tales. Who will do what to whom? Hmm… nope, guess again… oh, wait, you are really who?… and what will it take for her to break her silence? Or his allegiance? Or right the injustice?
When I read the biographies of the two authors, it made me wonder if Mariam Murcutt had written much of the first half because of her multiple jobs involving technical writing or research, such as business magazines, and oral history. And, Richard Starks had written the second half, since he has written a couple of crime and political thrillers. (NOTE: The authors responded to me saying that “the way we work is, one of us outlines a scene, then passes it to the other, and the scene goes back and forth between us until we’re both satisfied with it.”)
The two of them lived in England, and met in Scotland. They moved to Canada; and then to Boulder, Colorado, where they are full-time writers. They have a long list of communication-related credentials, including publishing. Much of their writing is based on their travels worldwide. Their bio web page has many generalities, so it’s not easily clear as to who wrote which book, or co-wrote, or which ones got awards, etc.
You can get to meet them if you join the Lyons Community Library “Busy Readers” book discussion in spring! A couple of other book clubs in the area are also reading the book.
They say on their web page that their book on Tibet has been opted for a movie. I would highly think that this one would make a great, timely movie – not only because it has compelling characters, and much of it talks about the old cowboy/western movies, but because of the treatment of Native Americans by the public (getting locked up overnight for just walking through town), and of the treatment of disabled people in nursing homes and mental institutions.