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A Luanne Fogarty Mystery
by Glynn Marsh Alam
ISBN 0-9661072-9-2     $12.95


Diving Straight Down Into Murderous Intrigue
Reviewed by David Koepp

FROM: Tribal Soul Kitchen

Squatting at the edge of the dock, I pushed over backwards into waters that felt like the Arctic and headed for the opening once again. This time I went straight through the hole, past the white hair, treading water about five feet in front of the object.

But it wasn't an object. It was an old lady. White hair, girdle, stockings that were half unsnapped, a bra that had come loose on one side. Something strange about that side of her. Her plump arms outstretched, lots of brown liver spots. Something tied to her wrist, something in a plastic bag. I moved closer, but not close enough to touch, and could swear it was a Bible waving off a small rope tied around the bluing flesh just under her palm.

I avoided looking at the face until last. This was the hard part, the human part. It had puffed up with water or death or whatever makes people's faces puff up. Her mouth and eyes, wide open, magnified inside the plastic bag that covered her head. Someone had used her glasses string to secure it around her neck. The glasses still there, bobbed at her chin. The top of the bag had been ripped and her white hair flowed out, waving back and forth in the water like a mermaid signaling her sailor-lover one last time.

The ghastly scene above is taken from Glynn Marsh Alam's “Dive Deep and Deadly”. The scene takes place in the Florida's Tallahassee swamps, where the novel's main character Luanne Fogarty has just been contacted by the local police because their regular scuba diving team is engaged at another location. Some young boys had been swimming and fooling around in the underwater caves when they discovered the body. Fogarty, a linguistics teacher on leave from the local college, is also a scuba diver, and she is familiar with most of the underwater caves. Fogarty volunteers to help, dons her scuba gear, and dives in.

That old cliché about “no good deed goes unpunished” rings true in this case, and Fogarty quickly finds she has jumped head first into the middle of an ever widening, swirling mass of murderous intrigue. Who is murdering these women and why? Are they the result of greed, or hatred, or for the thrill of the kill?

I must admit I have all but given up on the of the criminal mystery novel. As a genre it has seen better days, though it has more practitioners than ever. The private detective is trapped in a set of fictional rules he can't shoot his way out of. There are endless authors still trying (in vain) to improve upon the Dashielle Hammett and Raymond Chandler model of the private detective. Likewise the elegant, so called upper class drawing room murder mysteries are positively petrified in decades old formula. It’s time someone stuck a knife in Agatha Christie's tired out story technique and obliterated it.

That “someone” just might be novelist Glynn Marsh Alam. She has created an adult female character in Luanne Fogarty who is strong and smart, and has a serious hobby in scuba diving. This makes her unique. She lives in the home she grew up in (the house, to put it mildly, needs a lot of work. Think middle class “House of Usher”, sans the passive sibling owner). Luanne lacks a telephone, because the phone company has neglected to wire up the section of swampland. Nor does her cellular phone work, so messages are delivered by a distant neighbor.

Florida as the location for a crime novel is itself not unique. Carl Hiaasen is a master in his depiction of Florida criminals, though his criminals tend to be more urban, and more affluent. Fogarty's world is quite different; it is rural and blue collar. This novel oozes Florida musk and mud. The blue skies overhead are gorgeous, but the swamps have a venom all their own. Most of all it is pragmatically realistic, in that the minor details in any given day must be attended to.

Nor is Luanne Fogarty some heroic lone wolf fighting the good fight against some criminal current. Unlike most private detectives who work solo, Fogarty is a team player. To be honest, Luanne is not quite a detective just yet, but I am confident that one day she will be an excellent investigator. Right now she is an apprentice, who is a quick study.

The element that makes “Dive Deep and Deadly” so unique is that this is a highly realistic adult novel. I don't mean adult as in triple XXX. “Dive Deep and Deadly” is filled with grown up characters who embody all the flaws, expectations, anxieties, angers, needs, and habits of common ordinary humans. There are no superhuman heroes or villains in this cast. Even our main protagonist, Luanne Fogarty, is quite human. She is quite refreshing in her lack of perfection.

The seductive element in “Dive Deep and Deadly” is its rock bottom reality. Every single event, action, dialogue, dream, character, or setting can be found in our daily reality. What made this evident is the scuba diving scenes. It would have been very easy for author Alma to overplay the underwater scenes; to include too many, or to prolong them. She does neither. The scuba divers do their jobs as quickly and efficiently as possible. Their job is not a game. Investigating the underwater caves is dangerous regardless how familiar they appear.

The cold, wet darkness of these caves provokes multiple levels of intense fears. It poses the question: what is more dangerous... the cold murky waters or the murderous man-made deeds done on the surface? Each will extract a painful price. Clearly enormous is the emotional cost to Luanne and the other scuba divers who find and return the bodies to the surface. Hauntingly powerful images of dangling waterlogged corpses linger nightmarishly in the divers’ minds.

Human conversation is one of the healing medicines in this novel. Dinners in local greasy spoon restaurants (descriptions of the meals is superb. I could almost smell the food.) is another. There are numerous tensions and conflicts: the local sheriff and his all male staff are thoroughly backwoods sexist. The scuba divers resent dealing with a female who is their equal both underwater and on the surface. Some of them make adjustments and adapt... others do not. What is compelling and so human is the interaction of all the characters and the information exchanged.

To be blunt, I love “Dive Deep and Deadly”. I believe that not unlike the budding detective Luanne, the author Glynn Marsh Alam is an emerging original talent. Luckily we won't have to wait very long for new material. “Deep Water Death" will be released in autumn 2001, and "Cold Water Corpse" will be available the following fall 2002. So there is much compelling reading to look forward to.

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