CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 17. . . .January 9, 2015
Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s Search and Rescue, the first in a “Rapid Reads” mystery series from Raven Books (a division of Orca Publishers), features Claire Abbott, a reporter in a small town in British Columbia. In addition to writing copy for the Black Lake Times, the town’s weekly newspaper, Claire has the habit of inserting herself into police investigations and trying to help where she can.
In this case, Abbott finds herself in the middle of a missing person’s investigation: Amber Miller went for a run and hasn’t been heard from since. Miller, a high school senior, has recently broken up with her boyfriend, Doug, and people are concerned that he’s resorted to something drastic to win her back. The slight twist here is that Abbott begins to understand that her journalistic intuition for being in the right place at the right time is actually something more. At one point, while holding Amber’s jacket, she has a vision of the unconscious girl, and she realizes that she has some kind of ESP that allows her to see things that are happening elsewhere. This “remote viewing” is something that her mother has long been able to do, and it has made her a bit of a pariah in town as she tries to help law enforcement by telling them what she “sees”.
The book also devotes quite a bit of space to Abbott’s love life (or lack thereof) through a subplot involving the fire fighter she has stood up (again) while she helps rescue Amber Miller from her icy fate on the mountainside. Abbott has a history of being unable to balance her workaholic tendencies with her love life.
Orca Publishers has made a name for itself specializing in high-interest/low-vocab books in its “Currents”, “Sports” and “Soundings” series, and, at first, Search and Rescue appears to be very much in the same vein: grab the reader’s attention with something jarring (in this case a missing high school student who might have been kidnapped) and tell the story in a straight-forward linear manner that relies on easy to understand language to keep the reader engaged.
The big difference here, though, is audience. Books from the “Currents”, “Sports” and “Soundings” series are all clearly aimed at reluctant teen readers. The books’ protagonists and the myriad situations they find themselves in are ones that teens can easily relate to and want to read about. That’s not the case here. The book is labelled “Adult Fiction, Ages 16+” on the back cover but even 16 feels about 20 years off. There is nothing about this book that feels even remotely young or hip. Early on, for instance, Abbott tells readers, “Jim called me Radar after that character on the old TV show M*A*S*H. Radar was the kid with the teddy bear. He knew what was happening before anyone else did.” One has to be of a certain age to find this comparison at all useful.
But it’s more than allusions to 30-year-old pop culture that make this book feel out of date. Abbott is a reporter (possibly the only reporter in town), and she forgets to bring her cell phone with her. Can a reporter do her job today without a cell phone? Maybe in a town where the head of search and rescue offers to “e-mail … a press release in the morning” and where a reporter can still brag that she got her “front page shot of the firefighters hosing down the flames.” This is a pre-Twitter world where the Internet appears not to have affected the way newspapers are produced.
But feeling current is not just for kids. Adults, too, want contemporary books to feel, well, contemporary, don’t they? The website and catalogue do not provide much more help in trying to determine the intended audience. Readers are invited to “escape on a short adventure. Rapid Reads is a line of engaging mysteries and short novels for people on the go” and the catalogue includes an endorsement from The Coastal Spectator: “Life interferes with good books. Orca Book Publishers recognizes this and offers rewarding alternatives for those pressed for time.”
It’s hard to imagine that someone pressed for time is going to pick up this book. There are plenty of straightforward and accessible mysteries out there that will attract someone looking for an easy read. Someone truly pressed for time and looking to escape with a story like this is more likely to watch a re-run of Medium, a television series featuring a non-detective who also experiences “remote viewing”.
Anderson-Dargatz’s The Stalker, however, might provide some insight into a possible audience. The Stalker is part of a series published by Grass Roots Press and the Canadian Government meant to help improve adult literacy. I have not read The Stalker, but Search and Rescue very much feels like a book that could work very well as part of a classroom or resource library aimed at helping adults improve their reading and literacy skills.
Recommended with Reservations.
Scott Gordon is a high school English teacher and librarian at Woodroffe High School in Ottawa, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.