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by Lorie Ham

AmErika House/Publish America
October 2000<

Reviewed by Pamela White

Lorie Ham is a brave woman. Not only did she plunge into writing a murder mystery, she creates a new subgenre --that of the Christian whodunit. MURDER IN FOUR PART HARMONY is the story of a gospel singer returning home from a concert to discover that a former colleague is accused of murder. We quickly learn he is more than a colleague. Once, eleven or so years earlier, they shared a kiss when the singer, Alex Walters, was sixteen.. This moment is enough for these two Christian performers, as well as the local police force and anyone else we run into in Donlyn, California, to call Alex and Jerry Web, the accused, lovers.

Be prepared for an innocent look at life when reading Hamís debut novel. Alex Walters, singer, saver of former lovers, former police officer and single mother, has carried a crush on this married man, Jerry Web, through a failed marriage and into an ambiguous relationship with a male friend, Stephen Carlucci. Carlucci just happens to be the best private investigator in this rural central California town and has been hired to help Jerry prove his innocence. Alex, as heroine, takes lead in the investigation.

Ham, like so many authors, desires to give her amateur sleuth flaws and memorable gimmicks. There are times when the quirky personality traits -- constant guzzling of a brand name cola, a near-obsession with Frank Sinatra, a boyfriend who rents his car so he can change it up to twice a day and who has connections with the Fresno mafia -- pile up and serve mainly as distractions from the story.

Ham should improve her storytelling. Her first-person narrative is a good technique to pull us into the action, only we donít see the action, we just hear about it as Ham eschews the writerís maxim, show, donít tell. All of which is unfortunate because Ham is weaving a story with twists and turns that nearly satisfy. Tight editing and a clearer voice would eliminate the mixed metaphors and tired cliches, and allow the characters to develop into three-dimensional people we care about.

We only get a small glimpse into the world of gospel singing and itís not enough. The author has been a gospel singer and song writer since she was five; she has inside information about a world so foreign to most readers. Indeed, itís hard to ignore the parallel traits between the author and her protaganist.

What the author does right is plot a story with surprises. Everyone has a motive, even Alex. And enough people have flimsy alibis and opportunity that the reader wonít know the ending until. . .the ending. Her characters are believable and likable, just not fleshed out.

Next time out, I hope author Lorie Ham will show her single mother in action -- nurturing her daughter, weaving her songs of inspiration, marketing her talent and feeling the music as it hums from the sole of her feet and swells up and out. There is room for a new sub-genre, bringing new readers to the world of mystery.

Overall a respectable first book. I look forward to another one.

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