I had the pleasure of reading Joylene Nowell Butler's thriller, Dead Witness, over the holiday break. It's a fast-moving story about a Canadian woman who, while on a trip to Seattle, witnesses the murder of two men, an incident that then exposes her and her family to the possibility of being murdered.
The best thing about the book is that Joylene immediately establishes, via action, what makes the main character tick and the main problem with which she'll have to contend.
Valerie McCormick lives outside of Prince George, British Columbia. She and her husband own a small logging business and are the parents of three daughters, ages 18, 17 and 12. Valerie's girls write a paragraph about their mother for a Mother's Day contest and consequently win her a free two-day trip to Jasper, Vancouver or Seattle.
She chooses the last city at the request of her husband, who in an attempt to woo a new client, wants Valerie to photograph a luxury boat the client is interested in buying, but is too busy to view in-person at the Seattle harbor where the vessel is berthed.
Valerie is on her way to photograph the boat when she witnesses the murder.
For me, the following are clues as to what drives Valerie:
• Valerie didn't have to do as her husband, Ed, requested, but she does.
• Her husband did not have to request that Valerie choose her destination or use her time to take care of a business task, but he did.
• Ed did not go with Valerie on this getaway.
• After Valerie witnesses the murders and manages to escape, Joylene writes:
To calm herself she thought of her precious daughters... God, how she loved them. So much so that her heart hurt.
How she loved them, her daughters.
Marvelous! Now I know Valerie. Rather than clunk us readers over the head by telling us that Ed is a lout, Joylene instead shows us Valerie's grace and loyalty. Valerie does as her husband asks because he's the father of her three girls and is trying hard to earn the money necessary to keep them safe and happy.
By cutting Ed out of Valerie's thoughts during moments of duress, Joylene communicates that above all else, Valerie loves her daughters and will do whatever is necessary to keep them safe.
The question, of course, is how far will she have to go to keep her daughters safe? And thus the story takes off like a shot.
Two Unique Aspects
Lastly, I love books that teach me something new or take me somewhere new. Joylene's book does both.
In terms of the first, Joylene hits upon a unique angle by highlighting the legal and jurisdictional difficulties, obligations and issue surrounding a situation in which a citizen of one country witnesses a crime in another.
In terms of somewhere new, Joylene describes many landscapes as the story moves from place to place, from Canada to the U.S. to Mexico. The landscape that's most beautifully described, however, is that of the British Columbia countryside.
Nicely done, Joylene!