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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


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Goddard, Robert: Sight Unseen

  Amazon  

3 stars

When he was a 22-year-old Ph.D. student, David Umber witnessed a terrible crime, the abduction of a two-year-old girl and the murder of the girl's older sister. The crime was never satisfactorily solved, and now, more than twenty years later, Umber is invited to take a stab at unraveling the mystery that has since haunted him. He teams up with a policeman, now retired, who was involved in the original investigation, gets scary people worried enough to put him in the hospital, and winds up discovering that nothing about what he witnessed that day was quite what it seemed. Moreover, the crimes appear to be connected to the research he was conducting at the time into the identity of an 18th-century letter writer who called himself Junius, so that figuring out who was behind the abduction requires that he leap back into his abandoned research.

I've read a number of Robert Goddard's novels in the past. They're complex, tightly-plotted page-turners. Sight Unseen is similar to the others in style, but this time I was left unsatisfied. The plot is a little too complex. By the end I didn't really care what all the fuss was about Junius' identity, and a few days after finishing the book I'd be hard-pressed to provide details about the bad guys' machinations. I had trouble remembering the names of fairly important characters, so that every time they were re-introduced--as late as twenty pages from the end--I didn't have a clue who they were. Maybe all that is just a sign that I'm a careless reader, but in this case I think the story was just not interesting enough to make me care about following it. A final complaint: the use of the ridiculous nickname "Shadow Man" to refer to Umber ("umber" means "shadow" in Latin, get it?). As in, "'What are we going to do, Shadow Man?'" Who would talk like this?! No one, particularly since there's no reason given in the text why the characters who refer to him in this way would choose to do so (i.e., that they refer to lots of people by nickname, or they need to avoid using his real name).

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