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Book Review: Screams & Whispers by Randall Peffer

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Since there have been five other thrillers in Randall Peffer’s Cape Islands series prior to his latest, Screams & Whispers, there may well be an audience for these books, but if the others are anything like this latest, it is really hard to understand why. This is an awkwardly told story filled with exposition from events that seem to be from earlier novels to explain character relationships and motivations. A bit of melodrama here and there, but suspense is rare. Moments that should be exciting rarely rise to the occasion. Prose style is at times flat, at time simply awkwardly pretentious. Characters never really come alive. Still, with five others in print, somebody must be reading them, and for those who are I would guess the sixth will be a welcome addition.

Although the book starts on the Cape, very quickly it moves to Vietnam, as ex-public defender, fisherman, and torch carrier Michael Decastro, joined by his father, an ex-military cop and Vietnam vet, runs off to save a fair lady, the love of Michael’s life, Tuki Aparecio. Tuki is a bui doi, a child of an American G.I. and a Vietnamese bar girl (as Peffer explains for those readers who have not managed to get into any of the numerous Miss Saigon audiences). She has been kidnapped by a super evil dragon lady, Wen-Ling, who wants a sacred ruby that it seems Tuki had managed to salvage in an earlier story. The novel alternates between short scenes of Tuki trying to escape the clutches of the dragon lady and the Decastros and the various allies they pick up along the way chasing after and just missing finding and saving her.

Perhaps the most interesting thing in the novel is Peffer’s use of foreign phrases and idioms to create a semblance of realism. Of course, since most of the story has the characters running around Vietnam, most of the foreign language is Vietnamese, but there are other Asian languages included as well. The Decastros are Portuguese, so their dialogue is sometimes laced with a bit of that tongue, and for good measure there is a female Cuban detective to add a little Spanish spice. The book is a veritable cornucopia of linguistic fruit. Unfortunately a little bit goes a long way. There comes a time when the reader begins to feel that the author has gone too far. And after awhile it becomes an annoyance.

A thriller works best when the reader can buy into the story, when the writer manages to get him to suspend disbelief in all the terrors and derring-do. Screams & Whispers never quite manages to do that, at least as far as this reader is concerned. Peffer, however, is onto something, and indeed there is surely a novel to be written about Americans revisiting the scene of that terrible war. I can only wish he had managed to do a better job writing it.

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