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By Sally Wright

Ballantine, July 2004 $6.99
ISBN: 0-345-44553-8

Reviewed by Cherie Jung

OUT OF THE RUINS is an academic mystery featuring series character Ben Reese, an archivist and amateur sleuth. This is the fourth book in the series. The setting is Cumberland Island, on the Georgia coast, in the autumn of 1961.

This is the first novel by this author that I've read. There were many aspects of OUT OF THE RUINS that I liked. Unfortuantely, Ben Reese wasn't one of them.

That said, let's concentrate on what I did like.

The first 13 pages thoroughly captivated me. The author introduces the reader to the island and to Charlotte and Hannah, the plucky older women of the Hill family. The Hill family has owned the island for genrations. (I liked Charlotte and Hannah. Most of the other characters were rather flat, in my opinion.)

Charlotte sets things in motion because she is determined to preserve the island and its wildlife. Meanwhile, the National Parks Service plans to take the land away from the rightful owners, as only the government can. Plus, rumors spreading across the island hint of a land developer who also harbors the desire to own the island, or at least large chunks of it. Some family members, owners long gone from the island, have already sold their land parcels. Tempers are at a boililng point and some are prepared to kill to get what they want.

The author's description of the island made me want to visit the area and see it for myself. And it would be a special treat to run into someone as fiesty as Charlotte and Hannah.

Also a plus, the author has provided a map of the island, a list of characters, and an afterword that sorts out the fictional from historical facts.

I've no quibble about the general storyline. I always like a good whodunit where the family members are shocked by the contents of a will and then take it upon themselves to sort out the details. The dialogue is good and the touch of Southern drawl isn't overdone to the point of annoying. I just didn't warm up to the main character, Ben Reese, or most of the secondary characters.

So. This is a mixed review. It was an enjoyable read on a rainy afternoon but not as engrossing as I had hoped. If we were using the "thumbs up" or "down" method, my thumb would be sideways, I guess.

Readers who thoroughly enjoy historical or academic mysteries may find this book and series more appealing than the reader who only reads this type of fiction on a limited basis.

I do plan to pick up a copy of the first book in the series, PUBLISH OR PERISH and give it a try.


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