27 August 2012

Review: Chasing the Wind by Pamela Binnings Ewen

Amalise Catoir is a second-year associate with the firm of Mangen & Morris in New Orleans in 1977, and has just returned to work after several months recovering from an accident that left her a widow. Amalise finds she has been assigned to Project Black Diamond, working for property magnate Bingham Murdoch to develop a new hotel in the city. She has also realised she is in love with Jude, her best friend since childhood, but thinks he might be falling for her Rebecca, her co-worker.

But there is a vague feeling that all is not as it seems, particularly regarding Bingham, the man behind the deal to build a hotel and casino on a piece of prime New Orleans real estate. Interspersed with the main plot were a series of flashbacks to 1975 Cambodia, chilling scenes with a woman named Samantha Barlow rescuing a small boy and trying to escape Phnom Penh before the Khymer Rouge arrive.

The story is told from several different points of view, with a style that seems rather remote at times, but it works. Chasing the Wind is very well-written, with characters that drew me in, and a tightly-woven suspenseful plot with some very interesting twists (one I saw coming, one I did not). This is one of those books that I think would be worth re-reading, as that way you could catch the nuances and clues to the ending.

My one complaint would be that between the lawyers, bankers and property tycoons, there were too many male characters with middle class names (not to mention he names of the banks and law firms), and I found it difficult to keep them all straight in my head. Fortunately, the major characters have suitably memorable names, so it didn’t matter that the others all blurred into one at the beginning.

Chasing the Wind is also an interesting insight into women in the professions (and working in general) in the 1970’s – smoking in the conference room, long lawyer lunches, asking the woman (Amalise) to fetch coffee and donuts, a reference to a single mainframe computer, research in libraries and on microfiche readers. Other scenes have the secretary clacking away on her typewriter and sending documents down to the typing pool, reminding us how much working life has changed in a very short time with the introduction of computers and the internet. Recommended.

Thanks to B&H Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing a free book for review.

Edited: I have just been browsing on Amazon, and have found that Chasing the Wind is the sequel to Dancing on Glass, which appears to be the story of Amalises's marriage. It appears that the stories are quite different: while this is definitely a romance within a legal thriller, the first book appears to be more a story of a disintegrating relationship. Knowing there is an earlier book makes some of the oblique references to the past more understandable, but Chasing the Wind can easily be read as a stand-alone story.

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