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Wednesday, 20 June 2012 14:53

A page turner with a WNC connection

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bookIn Frank B. Robinson’s Thirty Days Hath September (ISBN 978-1-4701-6725-7), a man with a murky past, Alex Madrid, finds temporary employment as a security guard at tiny Black Creek College in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The year is 1976, the tail end of September, and a rising tide of murder and abduction forces Madrid to confront his own past, a college on the verge of bankruptcy stained by the killing of one young student and the disappearance of another, and the escape from prison of the Weasel, a sadist and killer who has sworn vengeance on Madrid.

Black Creek, which is also the name of the town in which the college is set, is a powder keg of odd characters, deep secrets, and a buried past which needs only the murder of a young woman to touch off an explosion of mayhem and crime. Dicky Padrick, described as being “short-bus slow,” is the match for this keg. His arrest for the murder of Miranda Toliver causes Madrid to begin the investigation that soon reveals corruption both at the college and in the sheriff’s department. Condemned by local law enforcement as well as by the college for his interference and questions, Madrid must also face the unexpected return of the Weasel, who wants the money he believes Madrid has stolen from him.

In his battles against various enemies — at one point Madrid can scarcely leave his cheap motel room without some assailant trying to beat him into the pavement — Madrid does enjoy the support of two allies. The first is the ironically named Toto, a large vicious dog formerly owned and mistreated by the Wizard. Though Toto has several times bitten Madrid, he has an even greater penchant for sinking his teeth into the flesh of Madrid’s enemies. Toto seems an odd sidekick for Madrid — even the most ardent pet-owner might steer clear of owning such a beast — yet throughout Thirty Days Hath September Toto several times comes to the beleaguered investigator’s rescue.

Julia Kingston, a local reporter and the daughter of a local family with money, allies herself with Madrid while looking into the disappearance of September Jamerson, a college student with a deeply troubled past and an abusive step-father. Kingston proves as tough as Madrid, a beautiful woman whose “voice had a Lauren Bacall quality,” a journalist who isn’t afraid to ask hard questions and who, as the story progresses, finds herself at Madrid’s side doing battle both against the Weasel’s gang and against some of her fellow citizens.

To these characters and an intriguing plot Robinson also brings a gift for description to his story. Here, for instance, is his introduction of Julia Kingston to Madrid:

“She unfolded herself from the sports coupe and stood up. The woman was like her car — long and sleek. She had long dark hair and wore designer sunglasses with gradient lenses that made her look exotic — or at least mysterious … The blue jeans she wore were strategically faded — slung low on her hips — looked like they had been molded to her body. The motel manager was right — she didn’t look like a hooker. She looked like a movie star — but she wasn’t.

“She was a reporter.”

           

Thirty Days Hath September will not appeal to all readers. The tangled beginning of the novel — Robinson drops us into straight into the action, introducing a dozen characters with little explanation — takes some careful reading. There is violence, sexual depravity, and strong language, although these elements, given the bleak nature of many of the characters and the dark story, don’t seem overdone or out of place. Finally, the text itself wants some strong editing. A number of typographical errors occur here, and the double spacing between sentences is rarely seen in books these days.

But these are small annoyances. Thirty Days Hath September will keep its readers hooked as Alex Madrid, Toto, and Julia Kingston unearth the town’s hidden past and battle against the bad guys. The action, the fast pace, and a major surprise at the end of this first novel should gain Robinson quite a few local fans.

•••

Summer is here. If you are headed to the beach, here are book tips:

1. Leave the Kindle, the Nook, and other electronic readers in the cottage or condo you’ve rented. Electronic devices rarely take to sand, lotion, and spilled beer. Out on the beach, you’ll want a paperback.

2. The book you take to the water’s edge should be printed on cheap paper. This paper — you should be able to see a stray woodchip floating in it — is great at absorbing suntan oil. You can also use it as a blotter for perspiration. Later, when you return to your home, you can pick up this battered book, catch the aroma of oil and sun, and remember those precious moments when Junior wasn’t putting a dead jellyfish on your feet or throwing seashells at his sister.

3. The paperback should be fat. Unlike the human body, a fat paperback looks good when on the beach. A book with some heft to it will last you most of the week. It can also serve as a pillow, a foot rest, and a counterweight for wind-blown towels. Finally, if you have reason to defend yourself against intruding crabs, whether marine or human, a fat paperback will better cut the coastal wind and so find its intended target.

4. Fit the book to the beach. Gothic romances may cause consternation on high-brow Edisto Island. Kierkegaard will make you a social outcast at low-brow Myrtle Beach. If you are in doubt as to the rules of propriety, cover the book in brown paper. At best your fellow sunbathers will regard you as a figure of intrigue; at worst, they will assume you are reading pornography, but may still find you a figure of intrigue.

5. Bring a book exciting enough to allow you some pleasure, but dull enough to cause a short nap every 15 minutes or so.

6. Books on the beach, like sand dunes, work as effective barriers to unwanted intrusions. Plunk yourself down on a towel, put your nose in the book, and Pawpaw Mac may at least think twice before regaling you once again with accounts of his internal disorders.

7. For young women books are a necessity. You should use them as women once used fans: to create concealment, to provide a barrier, or in more favorable circumstances, to peep past the cover and flirt with the hunk on the towel just down the beach.

Happy reading!

(Jeff Minick can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

Thirty Days Hath September by Frank B. Robinson. CreateSpace, 2012. 352 pages.

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