One of the joys of reading is being able to pick up a novel by an
author with whom you're not familiar and finding yourself, hours
later, with the book firmly in hand, unable to put it down. I
recently had that experience with Don Bruns and BARBADOS
There is really no excuse for my unfamiliarity with Bruns. Bruns's
home base is Lima, Ohio (like the bean, not the city in Peru), only
a couple of hours away from where I sit right now. I've been to
Lima many times; my winter trips there help me to understand why
Bruns spends a good deal of time in the Caribbean and why he sets
his novels there. JAMAICA BLUE, his first novel, introduced rock
music journalist Mick Sever, and BARBADOS HEAT heralds his, and
Bruns's, return. You don't need to be familiar with JAMAICA BLUE to
enjoy or follow the events of BARBADOS HEAT, though you'll
certainly want to become familiar with the former once you've
finished reading the latter.
Bruns is a master storyteller. His background in advertising is
evident in the way he sets things up and moves the reader right
along. He does not write cookie cutter mysteries, however. BARBADOS
HEAT is a complex story wherein the misdeeds of the past suddenly
and dramatically affect the present.
The book begins with the murder of Congressman Robert Shapply.
Shapply, a former music mogul who has seen the light and the error
of his past ways, is on the verge of holding Congressional hearings
concerning the content of rap music lyrics. Shapply's past business
dealings --- particularly, his penchant for ripping off his former
clients --- mean that the police are not lacking for suspects.
Almost immediately, however, Nicky Brand, Shapply's stepson, and a
rapper named Chilli D are accused of the murder. The case appears
to be airtight; there is bad blood between Shapply and Brand
because of Shapply's past business dealings, and the murder weapon
is found in Chilli D's possession. The fact that Chilli D is
heavily in debt to Brand, and that Shapply's hearings had the
potential to permanently damage both of their careers, only makes
Mick Sever, on the verge of a long-awaited vacation, initially
turned down the opportunity to cover Shapply's hearings for a
tabloid. But when Shapply is murdered, Sever is reluctantly drawn
into the mix not only because of his curiosity but also because of
his former friendship with Brand, a friendship that was irrevocably
ruined when Brand's and Shapply's business practices almost drove
Sever into bankruptcy. Sever's old friend Tony "T-Beau" Beauregard
is there to help, as he also has a stake in the matter, being
Chilli D's manager. Sever additionally recruits Ginny, his ex-wife,
ostensibly to assist him with research. He is also, however,
motivated by his own unresolved feelings for Ginny. Sever is almost
convinced of Chilli D's guilt and Brand's culpability. But when
Shapply's chauffeur is also murdered, it becomes obvious that there
are other issues and individuals involved.
Sever, with the help of T-Beau, begins an investigation that leads
from Washington D.C. to Sarasota, Florida, and ultimately down to
Barbados, where a decades-old killing of a young girl holds the key
to the motive behind the Congressman's murder and places Sever,
T-Beau and Ginny in terrible danger.
BARBADOS HEAT is an incredibly fast-paced tale. Its complex plot
would suffer in lesser hands. Bruns, however, is a master at
keeping things moving, rendering the difficult easily
understandable. This book will put Bruns's name on the 'A' List of
many readers, and deservedly so. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011