Title: Annabel Lee
Author: Mike Nappa
Nutshell: Somewhere in the backwoods of Alabama, a little girl is hiding in an underground bunker. Her uncle locked her in with his attack dog for protection and told her to let nobody in. But her uncle’s dead. The only person who knows she’s down there is The Mute, an ex-special forces sniper who survived the raid. And even if he knew where the bunker was, he doesn’t have a key.
Trudy Coffey is a reasonably successful PI in Atlanta. She knows something’s up. A suspicious and sinister man came asking about an old acquaintance of hers. But she’s not expecting her ex-husband (and friendly neighborhood CIA agent) Samuel Hill to show up. And she’s certainly not expecting him to ask if he can borrow an old book of hers. And she most definitely isn’t going to just stay out of the way. Not when there’s a mystery just waiting to be solved.
They’d better settle at least some of their differences and solve it. Annabel’s time is running out.
Read-alikes: I simply don’t have titles for you yet.
I was completely (and pleasantly) surprised by this book. The cover was a picture of a classic horror-movie hallway: dingy, underground. It was the sort of place that serial killers lock people in for unspecified nasty things. Then there was the title, an obvious reference to Edgar Allan Poe’s poem Annabel Lee, which is dark and grimy. And it even began with the auspicious line “My uncle has a dog that eats human fingers.”
Why did I even take this book home? I’m not sure. But I’m glad I did. Once it got past that first, frightening chapter, it settled down into a very well-accomplished spy novel. Initially hooked by the jeopary the little girl was in, I continued for the excellent interaction between Trudy and her ex-husband, particularly enjoying the dynamic of their flavor of divorce. Trudy, you see, is still very fond of her ex, though she denies it because she was so hurt by him. Samuel accepted the divorce but would rather have stayed together. And as the book progresses, Trudy starts to see what life with Samuel might have been like if he had been honest and she had been forgiving (though that’s never said in so many words, it’s quite apparent.) The book certainly doesn’t rush them into a happily ever after. But it does offer a little bit of ease to the tension.
And that’s really the only ease you’ll get from the book until its denoument. The story starts with danger and urgency and only builds on it. Seamlessly woven into the initial hook, the girl locked in a bunker with only a month before her supplies run out, is the greater plot, that of the sinister old man who seems willing to kill anybody even slightly in between the girl and himself. And he doesn’t suffer from any of the usual villain pitfalls (incompetent minions or leaving people alive, for example) either, which heightens the danger in a very real way.
Halfway through the book, my second complete-yet-pleasant surprise occurred, when I turned it over and looked at the publisher’s imprint on the back cover. This is a book from a Christian author, and more worrisome yet, from a Christian publisher. While I am a fairly intense Christian, I find that literature with the Christian label is often overbearing, or sacrifices good storytelling to squeeze in sermons. To my delight, Annabel Lee is neither overbearing nor sacrificed to the altar of theology. There are some characters. They are Christian. Some others are not. And that is really the extent of it.
This book is plotted in such a way that most of the characters are actually alone for chunks of pages at a time. Annabel is obviously alone, canine guardian notwithstanding (he doesn’t get a viewpoint.) The Mute, the sniper who is trying to rescue her, is also acting mostly on his own. Trudy and Samuel bounce back and forth as their interpersonal troubles push them apart and then the conflict draws them together. There are a lot of potential pitfalls in this setup, and Nappa avoids them deftly. Rather than navel-gazing and lazing around, the characters keep moving. Even when they aren’t feeling a direct urgency, they’re occupied and interesting to read about. I find that admirable.
Perhaps the books only failing is how surprised I was that it was so good. I’m not sure where that came from, but every time something was foreshadowed subtly, or revealed elegantly, or carried out sensibly, I was surprised. I would stop to admire. Not long, of course. I had to see what Nappa would do well next.