Friday, November 20, 2009

Master Yarnspinner’s Latest Yarn

By Chip Schrader
Book Review Editor
Joyce Tracksler has made for herself a loyal readership and a place in Kittery lore with her mysteries that often feature local personalities and a smorgasbord of evil plots from criminal masterminds. Her eagerly anticipated tenth novel, Home of the Brave, stretches the mystery genre to historical fiction that buzzes with World War II era lingo, and laughable old world etiquette that is juxtaposed by Portsmouth’s infamous red light district.
In the opening chapters, we are introduced to a colorful array of characters from ladies of the night to upstanding locals who work together to put on a USO show for the homeward and war-ward bound troops. But, we are also introduced to a puzzler involving the charred remains of a dog name “Pal” found on Seapoint Beach by a runner.
Dodging through the Atlantic, a ship full of injured soldiers and love struck nurses makes its way toward the Naval Yard. Among the passengers is the handsome and heroic Joe Martin and a plain Jane nurse Eunice, who burned her re-grown curly red locks saving soldiers from a blaze. Nurses Michelle and Carol do some creative paperwork to tip the scales to their comrade’s favor hoping the blinded soldier will see love in Eunice. As a result, rather than going across the country to be treated, Joe happens to have been reassigned to receive his treatment right in York hospital where Eunice would be by his side.
As the arsons claim more lives, and more of the street walkers turn up missing, an unhappily married police chief, Randy, teams up with Inga, a criminal psychologist, to profile any suspicious locals and to trace the patterns within the crimes. The town of Kittery holds an assortment of motley and curious characters, many of whom could be just cagy enough to commit such heinous crimes.
Tracksler adopts some playful uses of text by starting each chapter with news headlines from local and national papers regarding the war, the arsons, a prison escape, and the USO show. She nicely plots a firm historical context with these headlines, and inserts several USO playbills that feature the name of actual modern day Kittery residents. Tracksler successfully fleshes out the bawdy and prudish characters in all their glory, and weaves a very believable World War II era Seacoast using some local history as a weapon in her arsenal.
The only piece of this work that readers might struggle with is the barrage of characters. The first fifty pages might make the reader feel like the new kid in school, but as each character returns in later chapters, the reader will find themselves thoroughly rewarded as they are acquainted and acclimated with this little town. Furthermore, once the ship comes in to port and the soldiers file in among the locals, the story begins to flow into a single narrative and the fun begins.
In Home of the Brave, Joyce Tracksler shows she has paid her dues writing good yarns about eccentric characters that seem too much fun to be true, and masterfully plots them into an entertaining read that gets deeper into your skin with every page.
Photo caption: Cover of Home of the Brave by Joyce Tracksler. (Courtesy photo)