From the Ashes – Sabrina Flynn

(Reviewed by Lee Nelson)

Let’s get the elephant out of the room: I’ve known of Flynn from my membership in Letters of Mary, a fan-fiction group devoted to Laurie L. King. I met her at 2014 Bouchercon in Long Beach and I wanted to give her book a try as I really love discovering new authors.

Her first mystery, From the Ashes, takes place on the Barbary Coast in 1897 and opens with the return of conflicted detective, Atticus James Riot. Riot, returning from a world tour, lands upon the San Francisco wharf in order to put to rest the ghost of his dead partner. Then, he intends to retire once and for all. Fate, however, intervenes and Riot ends up in the search for Isobel Kingston, wife of a wealthy attorney.

The story, which begins at the mid-point to change from Riot’s perspective to a back-and-forth between Riot and Isobel, ends up very twisty-turny. Just when the reader thinks they possess a strong grasp of Flynn’s plot, she throws a left-turn into the mix and the reader scrambles to catch up. In some aspects, this can add to the delight of the ride, however, the twists and turns only bring confusion here. Her wrap-up where she reveals all still has my mind spinning and my hand aches for a red pen to edit/simplify the whole ending.

So, why read it?

Well, gentle reader, Flynn shows huge promise. The well-researched historical aspect of the book ends up giving strength to Flynn’s convoluted story. She took the time to research quite thoroughly the time period and succeeds in well-incorporating lovely tidbits of historical trivia throughout. One of my favorite clues centers on the business cards of San Francisco prostitutes: Flynn not only stirs an explanation of them into the plot, but she firmly plants the card as a clue. Flynn unfurls her research without preaching to the reader: the history adds flavor, not overwhelms. (Yes, I did spot-check her several times throughout the book and she came up accurate each time.)

Her other big writing strength appears within her characterizations of the main players. By the end of the book, readers should know the two main players fairly well (and, perhaps, see their futures). She seems to know how to draw Riot and Isobel in such a way that readers will find ways to relate to them. However, fans of Laurie L. king may find the parallels between Riot/Isobel and Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell distracting.

Overall, a well-done first attempt at mystery writing with a promised sequel coming in the summer of 2015.

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