Clyde L. Sawyer and Frances Witlin

"An Uncertain Currency"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark OCT 29, 2000)

An Uncertain Currency

The Rotary Club of Floraville, Georgia has invited Mario Castigliani to perform one of his "internationally famous" psychic shows as a fundraiser. Just as Mario arrives in town, one of its local celebrities, an old black man named Roy Washington, is found hanging in his home. Police Chief, Beaufort Tyler, suspects murder even when the coroner accepts it as suicide. Several years before, the former Chief of Police had also hung himself. A rare way to kill oneself in this Southern town. And twice doesn't add up.

Tyler has never made use of a psychic in any investigations before, but at the encouragement of a woman friend, Tyler decides to try out the skills of the town's special guest. After all, the poster says that Castigliani has helped in previous murder investigations. As far as Mario Castigliani's psychic abilities, "My gift is a mystery, even to me. I cannot pretend to understand it. But it is genuine. Perhaps somewhere there are others who possess it also. In all of my life, I have met only one. The rest were entertainers at best, charlatans at worst."

Castigliani first experienced his abilities when he was an adolescent at an archaeological site in Perugia, Italy. The power, which he calls La Lucia, suddenly showed him where an ancient lion coin lay. From this time on, he found the miracle of his powers to be "fickle and demanding." That is to say, the powers are not always there. And this uncertainty is what makes this novel interesting and unique.

When La Lucia is there, Castigliani can read the thoughts of almost anyone. A few people are blocked to him, but that is rare. At the beginning of the investigation, La Lucia is strong, and Castigliani hears the thoughts of the town people regarding the hanging. He also uses these powers to prepare for the show that he'll be performing later in the week. Since he can't count on La Lucia being present during a show, he has to use many of the traditional methods of preparation as well, such as taking up a generous offer to read through next week's newspaper column at the office of the Floraville Weekly Clarion.

Castigliani is a well spoken, considerate gentleman. Although he has spent the better part of his life in America, he is still a foreigner with a difficult name that most people can't say. Despite his foreignness, he finds his way through the people and ways of Floraville who are, for the most part, gracious to their guest. Floraville is a mill town and at its heart is the family that owns the mill. Like one would expect of any town divided by those that own and those that labor, there is opposition as well as the gossip and speculation. And well kept secrets. Castigliani is soon in the thick of it. During the course of the investigation, we run into various attitudes on race relations, euthanasia, unions, religious organizations and the self imposed rules of social strata. At the very heart of the novel is the exploration into integrity. The key to La Lucia's powers lie in its honest usage.

An Uncertain Currency moves back and forth between the current investigation and Castigliani's past, explaining how he came to be the once internationally famous psychic to a man that can barely afford to travel to the rare booking such as this one. We are transported from Italy to America, past and present with ease, we follow the details and events of the murder investigation, while being filled in on the history of Castigliani's special powers. La Lucia leaves him soon after accepting the job to help with the investigation, so while Castigliani may be a psychic, he relies upon the same showmanship and inductive reasoning skills that would be used during any show to help solve the murder. And speaking of shows, my favorite part of the book is Castigliani's performance held in the high school auditorium. By this point, we also know the town's people as well as Castigliani and that part of the book is good fun. Not only do we "see" the show, the authors treat us to the backstage preparation and secrets that any of the best entertainers would use.

This is an intelligent, extremely readable novel with many well written and distinct characters set in a town so clearly depicted, that I was ready to adopt it as my own. I got an absolute kick out of the idea that the best restaurant in town is Bonnie's home - where you have a choice of sitting out on the porch or at her dining room table. I so wanted to drive over and join Tyler and Mario for a late night summer dinner. Whereas the idea of a psychic solving murders would normally turn me off, the authors have written a remarkable book in which even the most considerable skeptic is bound to be mesmerized.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 12 reviews


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About the Author:

Clyde Lynwood Sawyer, Jr.Clyde Lynwood Sawyer, Jr. grew in the south and co-founded the underground paper, The Inquisition. He graduated from Florida's New College with a degree in organic chemistry, then promoted concerts, worked in a flour mill and at The Charlotte Observer. Sawyer's works include The Tattered Rose, Ellery Queen's 500th First Mystery, and Alien Space Avenger, the world's last three-strip Technicolor film, as well as stories in various literary magazines. He divides his time between New York, India and West Sussex, U.K.

Frances WitlinFrances Witlin (1918-1996) was born in New Jersey. She wrote confessional and western pulps before assisting literary agent Carl Cowl, editing novels and "play doctoring" Broadway and Off-Broadway scripts, including The Silver Whistle, The Moon is Blue and Bruno and Sidney. While employed by the Columbia Pictures Eastern Story Department, Frances wrote over one hundred synopses and treatments, among them Bridge Over The River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago and The Last Angry Man. Frances was an independent Trotskiest with pacifist-anarchist tendencies who believed that the artist is at the cutting edge of history.

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