By Reviewed by David and Nancy Beckwith
"A False Dawn" and "The 24th Letter"
By Tom Lowe
Minotaur Books, $24.95
Being adrenalin-addicted readers of Florida mystery-thrillers, we are constantly vigilant as we try to stumble onto the next John D. MacDonald. To date, we have not identified his successor but we continue to be rewarded by our efforts. The wealth of talented people who choose our state as their residence as well as their inspiration make the search worthwhile.
Tom Leonard, our friend and neighbor and the owner of Vero Beach Book Center, recently brought two books by our house, "A False Dawn" and "The 24th Letter," the first two works of Tom Lowe who recently made an appearance at the center.
Our research on Lowe reveals that he is originally from North Carolina and that he and his wife reside in Windermere, an upscale community in the Orlando area, as well as Grand Rapids in Michigan. He's a father of four, is an avid sailor and scuba diver and was formerly an award-winning writer/director for PBS. He also freelanced for 15 years as a worldwide news reporter for CNN and has written for several magazines. His career took him to Cuba to write about the Mariel boat lift as well as to Colombia to cover the cocaine trafficking scene. He and his wife worked together on "Zora's Roots," a documentary about Harlem Renaissance author (and Fort Pierce, Fla., resident), Zora Neal Hurston.
Lowe's two novels feature a former Miami Police Department homicide detective, Sean O'Brien, who has moved from Miami to a rural setting on the St. John's River near the Ocala National Forest in Volusia County. All Sean wants is peace. He's struggling to put his life back together after losing his wife to ovarian cancer and his best friend, killed during a robbery. His only companion is an adorable, 8-pound miniature dachshund named Maxine. O'Brien resigned from the Miami PD after promising his wife on her deathbed that he would give up crime investigation and is therefore reluctant to get involved in law-enforcement matters. However, circumstances are determined to make this commitment difficult to honor.
In the first book in the series, "A False Dawn," Sean finds a battered migrant Hispanic girl in the Ocala National Forest who's been mortally beaten and raped. As she dies in his arms, Sean pledges that he'll catch her assailant. He soon becomes himself the primary suspect in the crime. His subsequent efforts lead him to try and apprehend a sadistic Miami serial killer, known to police as the Bagman, which leads him to chase other criminals engaged in the trafficking of migrant workers -- humans sold to farms as slaves and to pimps as hookers and as cash crops when their organs are harvested and peddled on the Internet.
In the sequel, "The 24th Letter," Father John Callahan hears the confession of a frightened prison inmate and learns that a man facing lethal injection is innocent. The original investigator on the case was his friend Sean -- the same Sean O'Brien of "A False Dawn" -- who is still haunted by it. The 24th letter of the Greek alphabet, Omega, may provide the key to cracking the case and uncovering the killer's identity.
Both books are darkly suspenseful and highly atmospheric thrillers. And they are very fast reads; we were able to finish half of each book on our first night. Lowe has written several screenplays and his books are written with short scenes that move as quickly as a movie to keep the action moving.
His main character, O'Brien, is a compilation of detectives he worked with when covering crime stories as a journalist. "I was always impressed with them," he told fans in Vero Beach, "and they shared things with me such as how to really read body language. All that fits into the novels."
Lowe has written two more books in this series that have not yet been published. "The Black Bullet" will bring into play his international experience when O'Brien gets involved in an overseas murder case. It will be followed by "The Butterfly Force." We look forward to reading them.