(Reviewed by Judi Clark OCT 7, 2001)
Jade Arden is an ex-Navy spy and a under cover heroine. She was forced out of the Navy during the Persian Gulf War when she shot an officer who brutally raped her while he was guarding her, unaware of her identity assuming she was a just a "dirty Arab." The outcome of the mock trial is that Jade is forced back into civilian life. Being an American of Palestinian descent she was the Navy's best undercover weapon, able to infiltrate at the highest level of the enemy, thus she's in possession of a lot of classified information. The Navy's deal is that she can live a normal life with her two teenagers as long as she never talks about either why she was discharged or anything she knows.
Jade has created a home for the three of them in the bucolic town of Cairn-on-the-Hudson in which she has a job as the Riverkeeper on the Hudson river, monitoring pollution and so forth. She's very content with her life and isn't unhappy with the Navy's deal. She realizes that her teens are greatly troubled and admits that her and her husband had not done them any favors by letting others raise their children in their frequent absence. As a widow, she's trying to make up for the lost years but it's difficult. Fatima, her daughter, is a devout Jew who has recently met a Rabbe Dockowicz, whom his followers believe is the soon to be revealed Mosiach. They have founded a community they call Hebron Nablus, and Fatima desires to live there with her "true family." Jade understands that Fatima is following her father's religion out of a sense of continuity with him, but can't understand her intensity, since neither her nor Max ever felt it. Her son, Max Jr. has learning disabilities and is experiencing frequent beatings at school. She knows that she can teach him to defend himself with a few quick moves, but Max Jr. is too embarrassed to learn from her.
Everything changes when fisherman Jack Trex, calls her to get her opinion about what he should do about something he's dredged up. It's a decaying sea lion with a metal box strapped to it. She immediately recognizes it as a fish-bomb, an obsolete Navy weapon. Although she knows what it is, she can't say she knows anything about it, she can't even disarm it. Resolving to give nothing a way, she tells the fisherman to call the Coast Guard.
As expected the Coast Guard calls the Navy and the Navy requests that the Cairn Marina be cordoned off until they can send a representative out in the morning. That night, during Detective Roy Mannes watch, the bomb explodes, accidentally killing a family of four. Detective Mannes is suspicious from the start of what Jade might really know and she's paranoid of letting on anything for fear of violating her contract with the Navy, losing her home and children. However, neither Jade nor Roy can ignore the evidence that there seems to be a conspiracy at hand. Worse for Jade, her sworn enemy has found her and the Navy's old-boy network is isolating her from any information that might help save herself and family. Although, Jade's in agreement with the public explanation as to why the marina was blown up, she doesn't believe the act of terrorism was perpetrated from enemies outside the United States.
I can't separate the fact that I am reading and reviewing this novel after September 11th. It's surprising how much our collective attitudes have changed since Mr. Chesbro published this novel. What was a perfectly reasonable plot prior to the act of terrorism on the World Trade Center, may not be considered appropriate now. (Look at the movie productions that were canceled and I admit I've since edited some sentences out of my Web site.) Whereas some might object to the The Keeper's plot at this point in time, my take is that if this plot was plausible prior to September 11th, and I believe it was, then that is all the more reason to read the novel now. It is no surprise that Jade Arden, as an Arab-American, experiences an expected prejudice after the marina is exploded. The prejudice and willingness to blame Arabs has been with us since before the Oklahoma bombing. It also goes to show how long we have been anticipating an attack on our homeland. Moreover, the underlying plot is more interesting to me now that patriotism is in fashion. Jade and Detective Mannes suspect a renegade group of ex-Military men as being behind the marina explosion. As the plot unfolds, we learn that, indeed, there is a group of extreme patriots at work here. In this novel, Mr. Chesbro makes a point that extreme, out of control patriotism can lead to some harmful activities equivalent to terrorism. In these hard times, I think it is prudent that we read the novels that have been written with plots that might not be all that flag-waving, politically correct so that we can keep a balanced perspective. Any such knowledge does not lessen the tragedy of September 11th but can help us to understand more about ourselves and the world around us.
I have enjoyed many of George C. Chesbro's Mongo Mysteries and purchased this novel to provide support to Mr. Chesbro as a loyal fan. Since I hadn't read Chesbro's non-Mongo books, I didn't know what I would find in The Keeper. As expected it doesn't read like a Mongo Mystery mostly because it is written in third person narrative. I find that third person writing comes off less snappy than first person since the author has to spend more time telling us how someone feels, what they are thinking or why they are doing what they are doing. That said, Chesbro is talented with dialogue and keeps the story moving through his character's interactions and the plot action. Third person narration is the the best choice for telling this story since we get to see Detective Mannes', and others, reaction to Jade. As the heroine of the novel, Jade Arden is fascinating and a most unusual female character. Chesbro balances Jade's civilian life with her secret life as Gemstone, enticing us to read on as he reveals pieces of her past. In the end we have a strong profile of a female spy and what she would have to do and be like to infiltrate the enemy. Even in her current role as civilian, when she must act, she is so cool. She has had the highest level of covert military training and can do such tricks as stripping a man down to his undershorts with a just a few waves of her knife across his clothing. The man that is her sworn enemy is dangerous because he is crazy with what she did to him. Jade is dangerous because nothing will stand in the way of her warrior self, especially when it comes to protecting her children.
The Keeper is a welcome addition to the spy-thriller genre, this time featuring a strong female protagonist, with a skill set matching the best in the espionage game. It's a good combination of light entertainment and not so light insinuations of possible trouble caused by the old-boy network. I especially like the poetic justice of the plot in that if the Navy hadn't forced Jade Arden out to protect one of their boys, she wouldn't have been in Cairn as a Riverkeeper when the fish-bomb was found, and thus wouldn't have blown their whole illegal organization wide open.
- Amazon reader rating: not reviewed yet
Read an excerpt from The Keeper at author's website
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Shadow of a Broken Man (1977)
- City of Whispering Stone (1978)
- An Affair of Sorcerers (1979)
- The Beasts of Valhalla (1985)
- Two Songs this Archangel Sings (1987)
- The Cold Smell of Sacred Stone (1988)
- Second Horseman Out of Eden (1989)
- The Language of Cannibals (1990)
- In the House of the Secret Enemies (1990)
- The Fear in Yesterday's Rings (1991)
- Dark Chant in a Crimson Key (1992)
- An Incident at Bloodtime (1993)
- Bleeding in the Eye of a Brainstorm (1995)
- Dream of a Falling Eagle (1996)
- King's Gambit (1976)
- Turn Loose the Dragons (1982)
- Veil (1986)
- The Golden Child (1986)
- Jungle of Steel and Stone (1988)
- Bone (1989)
- Crying Freeman (1999 - not released in U.S.)
- The Keeper (April 2001)
- Prism: A Memoir as Fiction (January 2002)
- Prism: A Memoir as Fiction (January 2002)
- Lone Wolves: Short Fiction (June 2003)
- Strange Prey and Other Tales of the Hunt (September 2004)
- Originally written as David Cross:
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- The official George Chesbro Web site
- Mystery One Bookstore interview with George Chesbro
- MostlyFiction.com review of Dream of a Falling Eagle
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About the Author:
George C. Chesbro has been writing since he was about 20 while in college studying for a degree in special education. His first teaching job was to work with developmentally disabled-educable mentally retarded. Although hard work, there was no after hours work thus leaving him free to write for a couple hours each. He continued to teach for over 17 years before turning to writing full time. George and his wife Robin are the owners of Apache Press which is republishing his books using print-on-demand technology.
George and Robin Chesbro live in Nyack, New York.