CONFESSIONS OF A DEATHMAIDEN
Frances Oliver, the "deathmaiden" of Francisco's captivating if flawed first novel, helps ease the passage of the corporeal body to the other world, but only when the spirit is ready to make the journey. Her newest client, Tomás, a young Mexican boy living in Los Angeles, is brain-dead, but before she can apply her skills, the boy dies. Believing he was murdered for his organs, this 40-something woman transforms herself into a sleuth to unravel the mystery. Oliver's journey takes her from contemporary L.A. and the unsettling business of organ "recovery" (i.e., harvesting) to the shadowy world of smuggled antiquities and, eventually, deep into the rebel-controlled Mexican mountain village where Tomás was born. Francisco writes with an attractive combination of matter-of-fact authority ("I help people die") and real lyricism, particularly when articulating the fuzzy zone between life and death. But too many convenient coincidences, some awkward foreshadowing and a few overly familiar characters, such as the skeptical but sympathetic policeman and the doctor (named "Faust"!) with a God complex, underline the need next time for a plot more worthy of this highly original and compassionate heroine. (Sept. 24)
Forecast:Fans of Michael Connelly, who provides a blurb, will appreciate a setting and style reminiscent of Connelly's Harry Bosch novels. Fans of Margaret Maron, who also endorses the novel, will appreciate the strong and unusual female protagonist.
Release date: 09/01/2003