By Carole Sutton
Reviewed by Randall Radic
In the mythology of the ancient Greeks, the ferryman was known as Charon. His job was to ferry the souls of the newly dead across the river that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead. And in a few cases, certain heroes – Heracles, Orpheus, Aeneas, Dionysus and Psyche – crossed the river while still alive and returned. The ferryman carried them in his boat.
Ferryman, Carole Sutton’s new and delightful novel, dances around the edges of the Greek myth. The hero is Steven Pengelly, who is accused of murdering a young woman. The police can’t find her body but, because of the overwhelming circumstantial evidence, Steven is tried and convicted of murder. He is ferried to prison, essentially a dead man. For he will never see the light of day again.
Never say never.
Two years later, the dead woman’s body miraculously appears. Only she hasn’t been dead for two years. In fact, she’s only been dead a few weeks. Which means Steven couldn’t have killed her. Accordingly, Steven is released and ferried back to the land of the living, where he is recruited by another young woman to help her find her missing sister, who may have had a connection to the dead woman responsible for his false imprisonment.
So the gist of the story is this: a former prisoner, who was as good as dead, is looking for a missing woman, who might be dead and may have known a woman who is definitely dead. Sounds like a Michael Connelly novel, doesn’t it?
Well, one thing is for dead certain: Carole Sutton writes just as well as Michael Connelly. Jumping from the past to the present and from the present back to the past, Sutton carefully erects a tantalizing who-dunnit. The story swings about numerous axes of action and intrigue – called subplots – as it powerfully unfolds. Sutton maintains control of all these plots within plots, leaving one to tend to another, but with a deft touch that implies mastery of her genre. The whole thing exudes an aura of lethal expertise.
The reviewer rarely reads mystery novels, other than those by the already mentioned Michael Connelly, because more often than not they are full of spurious histrionic devices, which are boring, to put it bluntly. With Ferryman, though, it was quite the reverse. There are no phony-baloney dramatic devices and, thankfully, no deus ex machina straining credulity to the breaking point. Which means there are no “Jesus!” moments in Ferryman, where the reader wonders if he picked up the wrong book or somehow managed to skip a whole chapter. Instead, there’s a sense of imminence on every page, an imminence that causes the reader to keep turning the pages to see what happened next. The story moves gracefully and steadily forward, which is probably due to the fact that Ms. Sutton shows neither indecision nor diffidence in what to do next. In other words, she doesn’t have something happen simply for the sake of procedural effect. Rather, she knows where the story is going and knows how she wants to take the reader along for the ride.
She’s just about right, always. As is Ferryman. Buy it, you’ll like it.