30 September 2011

Review: THE EMPANADA AFFAIR - Last, Jerold, Last, Elaine

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 254 KB
  • Publisher: Jerold and Elaine Last (July 6, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
  • Language: English
  • Source: I bought it ($0.99
Product Description (Amazon)

This new mystery novel features Private Detective Roger Bowman, and the action takes place in Los Angeles and in Northwest Argentina. Bowman is hired to solve the murder of Robert Foster by Foster’s beautiful daughter Suzanne. The murder occurred a month previously in Salta, Argentina, and the local police seem to have given up on this case. Bowman and Suzanne, who is being followed by a mysterious man, travel to Salta to make their own investigation.

The big questions they try to ask are whodunit and why was Robert Foster killed? There’s plenty of action, our PI and his client find themselves strongly attracted to one another, and the setting is pretty far off the beaten path for American tourists.

The settings and locales are authentic; the authors lived previously in Salta for several months. The cover art is an original painting by a friend from Salta, who graciously allowed us to use it for this book cover. It depicts the typical colorful rock formations in the Andes Mountains near a small indigenous village north of Salta that Suzanne and Roger visit during their eventful week in Northwest Argentina. The book’s title comes from a local food served ubiquitously as an appetizer in the region, and from the name of a famous restaurant in Salta where our detectives find a key clue. This is a first novel for both of the authors, who are a married couple living in Northern California. Hopefully, it will be the first book in a series.

My take

THE EMPANADA AFFAIR reads to me as if the authors had collected a lot of tourist brochures, visited many tourist sites, and eaten at many restaurants during their stay in Salta (see notes about the authors below) and decided to write a tourist handbook for US visitors. It is filled with the sort of detail you would expect to find in a Frommer's Guide for tourists. When that didn't quite work out they decided to add a mystery element. Unfortunately liking to read crime fiction doesn't always endow the ability to write a good crime fiction novel.

My estimate is that the murder mystery thread in THE EMPANADA AFFAIR occupies about 10% of the novel. The rest is filled with extraneous and largely irrelevant travelogue details. If you had a mind to, you could learn quite a lot about the culture and historical background of Argentina, but unfortunately that wasn't my purpose in reading it. I was looking for a good murder mystery plot set against an authentic background. While I got the background, I wasn't prepared for it to take centre stage. In fact the murder mystery theme never does get properly resolved. The suspense element dies out well before the end.

To add to my annoyance PI Roger Bowman, ex LA cop, was a most unprofessional person and the numerous steamy (and graphically described) sex scenes between him and his client Suzanne Foster made me feel like a voyeur.

There are a number of technical difficulties with this novel that the authors must solve before venturing into publishing again. For example most chapters finish with Roger and Suzanne snuggled up in bed at the end of the day. Each chapter seems to deal with a journey or a day.

There is a second problem caused by stilted and poorly constructed dialogue.
I can always tolerate something that looks like the following once, but to ask me to read conversations constructed like this several times is unimaginative.
    “What did you like the best?” I asked Suzanne. 
    “Did you like the chorizo, the beef sausage?”  
    “I thought it was kind of bland and needed something spicy to go with it. The combination with chimichurri was pretty good. At home I’m used to the Mexican pork chorizo, which is highly spiced, and I like it a lot more.”  
    “How about the blood sausage?”
     “I didn’t particularly care for it. The flavor is very bland and the texture is off-putting, kind of gritty.”  
    “What did you think about the chinchulines?”
So, if you are not particularly addicted to crime fiction, want to read something that reads like a non-fiction travelogue with virtually no story, and intend to travel to Salta, Argentina, then this may be the book for you.

Me, I took the blurb a little more at face value, and was extremely disappointed.
My rating 1.0

About the Authors (from Amazon)

The authors are a husband and wife team presently living in Northern California.  Elaine is a retired occupational therapist currently enjoying breeding, training, and showing German Shorthaired Pointer dogs and playing with her grandchildren.  Jerry is a scientist on the faculty of the University of California and a big fan of California mystery novels.  A quick search of Amazon will turn up books and articles in biochemistry previously edited or authored by Jerry, but The Empanada Affair is his first novel.  Reader feedback will be greatly appreciated, so please take a few minutes to write a review of the book after you finish reading it.

The settings and locales for The Empanada Affair are authentic; the authors lived previously in Salta, Argentina for several months.  The book's title comes from a local food served ubiquitously as an appetizer in the region.


Vicki said...

Thanks for the review, Kerrie. I've seen this book around and wondered about it, but never ventured further than the cover-that-isn't-a-cover.

Anonymous said...

Kerrie - Oh, sorry to hear you were so disappointed. I've heard of this and wondered about it. I think maybe I won't put this on my TBR list...

Bill Selnes said...


Anonymous said...

Absolutely fabulous review! Your description way is awesome, simply superb article! I loved it.

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kathy d. said...

Well, I won't bother to read this one, however, the dialogue sounds like it would work for me as a panacea for insomnia.

Kerrie said...

It might make you really cross too kathy


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