Review: Richmond crime beat reporter Willie Black agrees to assist his ex-wife, who is defending a man accused of a most gruesome crime, in the stand-alone novel Oregon Hill by Howard Owen.
The decapitated body of college student Isabel Ducharme was found in the South Anna River; her head had been mailed to her parents in Boston. Martin Fell, the last person known to have seen her alive — via a surveillance camera outside a bar — is picked up and arrested for her murder. Willie's third wife, Kate, is hired to defend him and enlists the aid of Willie to do a little legwork. He's soon convinced that Fell has been framed, but can't come up with a motive why someone would want to kill Isabel and decides to work backwards in time. His poking around, however, has made him a target of that very same someone, who doesn't want the past to come to light.
Oregon Hill is presented in a conversational manner from the perspective of Willie Black. He is very observant, has a reporter's eye for detail, and is not shy about profferring commentary of what he sees. The narrative is exceptionally well written, the murder mystery plot a bit derivative and thus predictable, though nicely crafted. The ending is rather disappointing, however, not depending much on Willie's investigation, playing out in a "let me tell you what you want to know before I kill you"-style scenario.
The reader's enthusiasm for Oregon Hill will likely be wholly dependent on their enthusiasm for Willie Black. (The title refers to the working class neighborhood of Richmond in which he grew up, an environment that both defines and frames the character.) He's almost too complex, what with his own personal demons, an extended family consisting of several ex-wifes, a daughter, and a mother on her third husband, a job he enjoys but in an profession that seems to be constantly evolving … and not always in ways he understands or appreciates, and myriad relationships with co-workers and cops. All these situations and interpersonal interactions are explored to one degree or another here, to be sure adding depth and interest to the character, but at the same time almost overwhelming the story behind the murder of a young woman.
Acknowledgment: The Permanent Press provided an ARC of Oregon Hill for this review.
Review Copyright © 2012 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Oregon Hill: Richmond, Virginia
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Oregon Hill by Howard Owen
Publisher: The Permanent Press
Publication Date: July 2012
List Price: $28.00
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Page Author: Lance Wright
Site Publisher: Mysterious Reviews
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