BETH GROUNDWATER’S DEADLY CURRENTS
In the acknowledgments section at the start of DEADLY CURRENTS, her new mystery, Beth Groundwater thanks her agent and her publisher for working so hard to launch a new series in these challenging economic times.
After reading the novel, though, I’m not surprised that they made the effort. DEADLY CURRENTS is great. Here’s how.
Whitewater rafting on the Upper Arkansas River in Colorado with the beautiful wide blue skies and mountains in the background. Need I say more?
(I really, really need to work on the settings of my WiP.)
A thrilling start
The novel begins with dialogue that hooks us instantly. “Gonzo’s not going to make it.” I wasn’t about to stop reading then or truly for the entire first chapter as new river ranger Mandy Tanner launches her catamaran into the churning rapids to help two swimmers in peril.
An engaging protagonist
It helps that Mandy’s young. She has room to grow in future books. She’s still proving herself. She’s not sure of her ability to do the job especially when one of the swimmers doesn’t make it. She’s also finding her way in her first serious relationship. Boyfriend Rob Juarez owns a whitewater rafting business competing with the one owned by Mandy’s Uncle Bill.
Beth hits the plot points with deadly aim.
The set-up takes a little over the first quarter of the book’s three-hundred pages as the victim of the incident that opened the book turns out to have been poisoned, not drowned or dead of a heart attack. A personal tragedy that soon follows gives Mandy a personal investment in the case and insures that she’ll pursue the murderer.
By midpoint, on page 149, we’ve met all the suspects, and Mandy’s relationship with Rob takes a turn for the worst.
On page 225, for a perfect plot point two. . . . Well, I can’t tell you that without spoiling the story for you. Just let me say that Beth nailed it.
Great action scenes
The first action scene of this book is thrilling, as I said, and the last one is fraught with danger.
In between, other exciting action scenes abound, less dangerous but still tense. These include a scene in which Mandy and her boss Steve Hadley go into the river with chain saws to cut out up a huge cottonwood tree blocking the way and thus endanger people on the river and a scene in which Mandy and her friend helps rescue a man and his little boy from the river.
Beth alternated her big action scenes with quieter scenes, for example, the ones in which Mandy goes bar-hopping with friends or shares info with Sheriff Detective Vic Quintana. These aren’t boring, though, because Beth kept up the tension between Mandy and other characters.
Balanced styles of writing
Beth also kept the pace fast by varying the styles of prose she used.
When I taught fiction writing as part of the Creative Writing Workshop at one of America’s top community colleges, I always put this little diagram on the board.
Writers of literary fiction include more thought and exposition than do writers of popular fiction, who rely more on what I used to call “the dear old DAD” of writing: dialogue, action, and description. Robert B. Parker, as I pointed out in my blog posted exactly a year ago this coming Saturday, relied almost entirely on dialogue, so his pages had lots of white space and his books read really fast.
In DEADLY CURRENTS, Beth didn’t use as much dialogue as Parker did. But still she used a lot of it, plus plenty of action, and not lots of thought and exposition, which bog stories down.
Sample a few pages of DEADLY CURRENTS and you can see how nicely Beth varied her prose. I did a number on the numbers of pages 136 through 139 and this is what I found out.
Page 136 describes the aftermath of Mandy’s dog Lucky tangling with a skunk. It has twenty-eight lines and eleven paragraphs ranging from a single line to a paragraph just one word longer than three lines. Eight of these paragraphs have at least a little dialogue. Ten include action. Beth used descriptive details sparingly, no exposition, a.k.a. “telling” writing, and no thought.
Page 137 has three four-line paragraphs and 138 has a paragraph seven lines long. This paragraph includes a little bit of emotion and a tiny bit of exposition that explains how the performing arts center is located in an old power plant. Then Beth picks up the pace, that never really lagged, on the next page. Page 139 contains twelve paragraphs, seven of them very short, for lots of white space and a quick pace.
A thrilling crisis and a promising close
As I’ve said, the climactic action scene of DEADLY CURRENTS is terrific. And the closing scene is very touching, but also it sets up more books to come. I’ll be reading them.
I should do so well in my WiP as Beth Groundwater did in DEADLY CURRENTS.
Next time, around August 18, a column that argues that all readers should write reviews of the books they love.
Meanwhile, happy reading and writing, Juliet