Rescuing Olivia by Julie Compton
Julie Compton has produced an engaging and unique mystery in this, her second novel. Such is the good news. The bad is that in reading Rescuing Olivia I was reminded of The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond which shared the same two stylistic drawbacks.
I loved Richmond’s novel No One You Know which had a near perfect start-to-finish flow. But Fog was, in Richmond’s own judgment, “somewhat drawn out.” There was also the distracting fact that a story very comfortably set in northern California was diverted in part to Nicaragua. As I wrote earlier, “This seemed quite unnecessary.”
Rescuing Olivia is a good story but harder to read than Compton’s legal thriller Tell No Lies. And while Olivia is just 16 pages longer than Lies, it felt drawn out. It felt quite a bit longer. Further, this story set in Florida (the author’s home state) is arbitrarily moved to Africa in what becomes essentially a second book. I could not understand the need for the device. It seemed, once again, unnecessary.
Story wise, Olivia presents a movie-like plot. Anders Erickson is an everyday guy whose girlfriend Olivia Mayfield is quite rich. Olivia’s picked out an initially reluctant Anders to be her boyfriend rather than vice-versa.
“Anders had known all along… that he was but a blip on the radar screen of her life.”
Anders has never had an accident riding his motorcycle until he and Olivia are run off the road by a large black Mercedes sedan. Olivia winds up in the hospital in critical condition and Anders is led to believe that she’s died from her injuries; that is, until he finds out that she’s been taken away. The responsible parties may include her controlling father and her former fiancée. Anders vows to find Olivia before she’s further harmed or killed.
Yes, this is a great set-up, but the execution is just not as smooth as it was in Lies. There never seemed to be a loose thread in Lies, but in Olivia a few patches are visible. Part of this is due to character development. Anders is real and sympathetic. Olivia is presented with the right amount of mysteriousness for a leading lady. It’s the other characters that seem to be less than plausible, from Anders’ best friend Lenny, to his former girlfriend Shel. Then there’s the African native Makena, an employee of the Mayfield family, who raised Olivia from birth. From first appearance, the reader is given the impression that Makena is a critical character yet the story could have been told without her.
But don’t let me give you the wrong overall impression. Once you begin reading Rescuing Olivia, you will want to keep reading to see how the mystery of Olivia’s disappearance is resolved. The same is true of the Anders-Olivia love story.
The criticisms here result from the natural difficulty Compton encountered in fashioning a follow-up to the almost flawless Tell No Lies. I’d like to think that she might present us with another taut legal thriller in the next year or so. A Scott Turow-like courtroom drama would be just fine.
Actually, forget about the comparisons to Turow or Grisham… I have the feeling that Compton’s got the stuff to deliver her own blockbuster in the not-too-distant future.
A review copy was provided by Minotaur Books.