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Jack Batten

Toronto, Macmillan, 1990. 268pp, cloth, $19.95
ISBN 0-7715-9107-1. CIP

Reviewed by Anne Kelly.

Volume 19 Number 1
1991 January

In Riviera Blues, Crang, a 'laid back, jazz loving lawyer," agrees to help his ex-father-in-law search out a wayward cousin in Monaco. It doesn't take long for Crang to become involved in a robbery, a murder and his ex-wife's love life.

Riviera Blues has all the elements of a good mystery - an exotic setting, lots of money, and a computer-age crime. Unfortunately, it lacks many of the elements of good fiction, including strong characterization and suspense.

Jack Batten tries to create a world of high class, monied characters - a world filled with steamy love affairs, prep school nicknames and holidays in glitzy hotels. In the attempt, he creates characters that are shallow and stere­otyped, and for whom the reader feels little.

Neither does the reader feel much suspense. Batten's style is detached, almost matter of fact. Even in high action scenes, such as Crang's flight from Villa Pomme, the narrative remains uninvolved: "I waited. I watched. And I made out the beams of a couple of flashlights... My cue to skedaddle."

Much of the dialogue is false and hard to accept. Who would believe, for example, that a man being attacked by a vicious guard dog would say, "Nice doggie" or even "Godammit... it's my good windbreaker"? What man when rescued from a near-death encounter with a confessed murderer would quip "Hey... the cavalry has arrived"?

Batten's obsession with drinking (wine or vodka figures prominently every time Crang sits down) and with the more sordid side of life (the reader is treated to at least two discussions of "doggie doodoo") detracts from the plot. Perhaps it is an attempt to contras the life-styles of the rich with Crang's everyday life, but it does nothing to advance or enrich the story.

Riviera Blues, according to its book jacket, is Crang's search for "answers to nagging questions – namely: who done what to whom, and why is Crang left holding the bag?" After reading this novel I would like to ask in reply, "Who cares?"

Anne Kelly, YMCA-YWCA of Dartmouth, Dartmouth, N.S.
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