Novelist Ken Pelham debuts with a perfect storm of menace

Brigands Key, by Ken Pelham. Five Star. 374 pages. $25.95.

Some books have plots sprung from contagion and epidemics. Others feature natural disaster plots, like hurricanes. Still other books involve tales of buried or sunken treasure, or a mysterious disappearance. Many authors build plots around intriguing misfits, loser types who win in the end. Brigands Key knots together all of these plot strands and more. It begins with an unusual mystery. Archeologist Carson Grant, a man with a tarnished reputation, thinks he’s onto something big.

On an unfunded research dive in the Gulf of Mexico, over twenty miles from the coast and a long way down, Grant finds a cave out of which gushes a freshwater spring. Nearby, he finds a marvelously preserved corpse. It looks like a recent death. However, the autopsy reveals a strange assortment of facts that don’t fit together, making the time of death impossible to determine.

This same Gulf area has also attracted a fisherman turned fortune hunter, Roscoe Nobles, and his teenage assistant, computer geek Charley Fawcett. Roscoe is one of Brigands Key’s real characters. He’s a schemer and a dreamer. And suddenly he is gone, without a trace.

Okay, we’ve got a dead guy (whose finder is under suspicion) and a missing guy. Soon, a mysterious illness breaks out. Maybe a virus, but maybe not.  Some kind of poison? The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta sends an investigator, a Japanese American named Kyoko whose career is in jeopardy. Before long, she is in jeopardy.

Hurricane Celeste is bearing down on Brigands Key. Now the head of the local police and the town mayor are at odds about how to handle the twin situations, and soon the Florida governor and the federal government are involved. Official orders of evacuation and quarantine bump heads. Should the folks on Brigands Key be saved from the hurricane at the risk of exposing others to the spreading, undiagnosed illness?

Ken Pelham

This novel progresses like one of those suspenseful juggling acts in which the juggler gets three balls into rotation and then adds the third, the fourth, and the fifth while the audience waits for the next increment of complication or the ultimate collapse. Maybe the juggler will add bowling pins, axes, or flaming torches to the routine. These acts can be breathtaking, but they are over in a matter of minutes. Brigands Key is similarly breathtaking, but reading it takes a lot longer. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the November 21, 2012 issue of Fort Myers Florida Weekly, as well as the November 22 Naples and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions and the December 13 Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Pelham 1pdf and here: Florida Weekly – Pelham 2pdf

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