A web-cam chronicles the hatching of eagles high up in an East Coast forest. The world watches as one of the parents flies in with an expensive-looking choker to decorate the tree-top nest. It’s not just any necklace, but “The Ermengarde Choker,” well-known, diamond-encrusted, with a history reminiscent of the Maltese Falcon. Intrigued, Charley and Claudia Sylvester—amateur, middle-aged sleuths—determined to protect the young eagles from greedy fortune-hunters—set out to discover the secret of the multi-million-dollar piece of jewelry. First stop on the trail is a US senator and the senator’s wife, the last known owners. Unfortunately, the senator has been murdered, and his wife is on the run.
It sounds like a murder mystery, and the bucolic setting would do nicely for Murder, She Wrote, or any number of Agatha Christie stories. But the book isn’t a standard mystery at all, and it’s mostly unconcerned with clues, suspects, and detectives. Author Lee Carl is up to something completely different in THE CHOKER: a novel in the “pastoral” genre, a glowing ode to the wonderful people of this small rural community.
The ensemble cast, besides the dead senator, includes a number of eccentric and entertaining characters. A middle-aged lesbian couple explore their new-found sexuality; Jordan, the teenaged son of the senator deals with his feelings about his parents; Jimmy “The Birdman” Barnes organizes the entire population of the area to protect the eagles; Clarence and Terry, a couple of love-birds themselves, prepare their wedding. Tony Paluto starts out as the senator’s chauffeur and turns out to be the savior of the entire community. The energy of these people is infectious, and their well-meaning hobbies, travails and endeavors are all great fun to read, putting the town of Clovington somewhere between Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and Bob Newhart’s Vermont inn.
A couple of shootings do occur, and one other scene of shocking violence, but for the most part Lee Carl’s THE CHOKER is not a murder mystery or crime thriller, but a well-written, enjoyable visit to a place where people are kind and generous and eager to do their best for others and the world at large. The ending—a tour de force of good things happening to deserving people—wraps up the story nicely, with a great, big bow of good feeling.
Lee Carl’s THE CHOKER is a pleasant and imaginative story with a top-notch hook to kick-start it all and a tour de force ending.
~Dave Eisenstark for IndieReader