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ECSTASY
by Beth Saulnier
Warner Books, March 2003
384 pages
$23.95
ISBN: 0892967501


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Those of us who have spent more time than we probably should have done at music festivals, will wrinkle our noses in sympathy for Beth Saulnier's heroine Alex Bernier.

Alex, a reporter on a local paper, is stitched up ever so neatly by cowardly colleagues, and finds herself packed off to cover the Melting Rock music festival. She comes across the required quota of soap-dodging hippies and all manner of illegal substances, as well as the indigestion-inducing cuisine you encounter at these events. And naturally she finds a dead body or three.

Saulnier's strength is her likable main character and her ability to keep a plot bubbling along. In fact, you can spot at 20 paces that a journalist wrote the book. The writing is bouncy, fluent and crisp. The plotting is tight and the pace never slackens. Her writing is similar to James Patterson's, but her plot, built around the music festival and environmental protests in small-town America, has the virtue of at least being believable.

But the one thing that stops this book from moving into my top division is the characterisation. For a start-off, the cast of thousands is a problem ­ I spent most of the book with my fingers contorted into previous pages, checking back as to who people were. The teenagers, who are so key to the plot, are virtually impossible to tell apart, as are Alex's Gabriel Monitor newspaper colleagues and the grungy supporting cast.

The shallow character sketches which pass for characterisation are even more of a problem when it comes to Alex's cop boyfriend Brian Cody and her housemate Melissa. When the latter suffers the backlash from Alex's investigations, itıs difficult to muster the required sympathy, as we know next-to-nothing about her. As for Brian, the required love interest is a definite 1-D PC.

So if you want a rattling good read and some authentic settings ­ both music festivals and local newspapers ­ this book is worth your time. But don't expect deep and meaningful characterisation.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, February 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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