Friday, March 16

The Star by David Skibbins

Review by Diana Bane

If it's been a while since you were last in Berkeley, or if you've never been but would like to go, David Skibbins can take you there, no problem. And I can promise that you'll enjoy the time you'll spend with Warren Ritter -- who, if not quite the archetypical denizen of that Alternative City-by-the-Bay, comes very, very close.

Having read the Tarot Card Mysteries from the beginning, this third in the series (following Eight of Swords and High Priestess) struck me as the best yet.  I do recommend reading the books in order. Although it's not completely necessary, and each book stands well on its own for story alone, there is continuing development of the protagonist from one to the next, adding considerable dimension overall. This growth in a character already in his mid-fifties when the stories start (Warren has turned 56 in The Star) is rewarding in an interesting way: If you are over 50 yourself, then you probably have already noticed that people do change, and the most interesting people are still growing, as they age; and if you're younger, you may find that you have more in common with this "older" man than you thought. There is a secret at the core of Warren Ritter, and as it happens, there are even deeper secrets he's been keeping from himself, as well as the big one he's kept from the rest of the world. By the end of this book three, much has been revealed.

The plot of The Star concerns Warren's new-found daughter Fran, who like Warren is bipolar, her baby son Justin, and her husband Orrin. Orrin, a police officer in Santa Cruz, has been shot and killed with his own weapon. Fran is the chief suspect. Frantic to protect her son, she deposits the baby on Warren's doorstep in Berkeley and flees. Enlisting the help of Rose, his psychotherapist -- and after getting babysitting help from close friends Sally and her foster-daughter Heather --  Warren makes one of his exciting high-speed motor cycle runs to Santa Cruz and begins to investigate. The plot moves on quickly from there.

What I enjoy most about these books are the characters and settings, which ring absolutely true to me -- and I grew up in the parts that David Skibbins writes about. His descriptions of Berkeley and of Santa Cruz are pitch-perfect and uncannily insightful. Warren Ritter is among the most appealing mystery protagonists for me, because he's a survivor with a lot of strength and an equal lot of vulnerability. I was happy for Warren at the close of The Star, because after many scares and frustrations came a highly satisfying resolution. Read it for yourself and find out -- I think you'll be happy too.

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