Thursday, February 15, 2018

Book Review: 'The Handyman' by Susan Finlay

Arizona author Susan Finlay began her career with a degree in Business and used that background for being a Bank Auditor and later under the Bank Secrecy Act performed suspicious activities investigations. She now is committed to writing as a career: her successful publication of nine books to date is evidence of a wise decision. Her elected arena – mysteries, and now that includes the great mystery of discovering or past.

With this turn of emphasis in her series she calls CHAMBRE NOIR, of which THE HANDYMAN is the initial volume, Susan offers a note to her readers before the story begins – ‘This is the first book in my new Chambre Noir Series. It is a work of fiction; all characters, places and events are inventions. The troglodyte village of Mythe-sur-Vienne, France, does not exist, although some may recognize different aspects of the cave system and cave homes, since caves and troglodyte villages are not uncommon in France.’ Adding this information before the series opens secures the trust of the reader!

A sensitive opening secures our attention: ‘I really need this job, Madame Lapierre. I’m American, but I can stay here in France awhile. I do good work.” Had she heard or even understood him? Several times during the phone interview, she’d asked him to repeat himself. Josh glanced at his watch. Huh, only five minutes; seems much longer, somehow. He ran an anxious hand through his hair, wondering what else he could say to convince her. The woman said, “I hope you’re telling the truth about being strong. I’m eighty-eight years old, young man, and never needed to hire a handyman before, but there are things I can no longer do for myself. Just too damn old—” A terrible hacking cough interrupted her momentarily. “Oh, Pardon. Where was I? Oh, oui, Mythe-sur-Vienne, that’s the town where I live. Mythe-sur-Vienne is small but you won’t find my house without help. You must stop in at the alimentation generale—that’s the town’s general store—and ask for Veronique Granville. Tell her Paulette Lapierre sent you. She’ll escort you to my house. I’ll let her know you’re coming. You do speak French, do you not?” “Well, sort of. Not great, but passable,” Josh said. He winced at the white lie. “So, I’m hired then?” “Oui. But you must come here right away.” She was quiet for a moment and then gave a quick throaty chuckle. “American, you say? I’ve never met an American before.” Josh smiled to himself, picturing a wrinkled little woman, not unlike Great-grandma Emily, with crooked knuckles and leaning forward in her rocking chair, holding onto her cane as she laughed. He pushed the image from his mind. “Uh, yeah. Okay. I’m in Paris at the moment. Can I take a train there from here or do I need to rent a car?” “Train? Oui. Take the TGV.’ Susan has established the ‘now’ and has readied us for the excellent historical fiction that follows.

The synopsis distills the series’ beginning well – ‘Joshua Clayton abandons his lavish vacation in Paris when a terrible betrayal forces him to take inventory of his life. Avoiding going home, he accepts a temporary job as handyman for an elderly woman, Paulette Lapierre, in a small French village, but ends up as her caregiver in the final days of her life. When he stumbles across human remains on Paulette’s property, the secrets she had hoped would die with her come to the surface. A decades old murder filled with lies, love, and twists draws Joshua into the investigation. But the deeper he goes, the more nothing is as it appears. Joshua and Paulette must race to find the killer before the killer finds them.’

Welcome to a fascinating version of history woven into a fine novel. Though it is unfair to compare this book to other authors, the sensitivity with which Susan has shared this story is clearly comparable to the fine cadre of important historical fiction writers. She has continued to grow as an artist since the publication of this series in 2015. Watch her ascent! Grady Harp, February 18
This book is free to borrow from Kindle Unlimited.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.