Monday, July 7, 2008

K.I.A. - Thomas Holland

In Thomas Holland's second installment of the Dr. Kel McKelvey series, an American soldier who served during the Vietnam era is believed to have deserted the army just shy of finishing his tour in Vietnam. In 1984, political pressure causes the army to classify him as K.I.A.

When a recovery team believes they have found his remains, the Vietnam government is reluctant to release them; they aren't convinced these are the remains of Jimmy Lee Tenkiller. And when those same remains make it to Dr. Kel McKelvey's lab at Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii (CILHI), it's confirmed they are NOT Jimmy Lee Tenkiller's remains. So, whose remains are they?

At the same time, Shuck Deveroux is personally requested by General Anderson to take charge of a murder investigation at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. But this is more than an ordinary murder; it's the a scalping of a Vietnamese man.

Kel and Shuck cross paths on their respective investigations and learn the two cases are linked. So, they put their skills together to figure out what is going on. Meanwhile, more Vietnamese men end up dead, scalped. The links between Jimmy Lee Tenkiller and these Vietnamese men, all of whom were former officers in the South Vietnamese Army, date back to the Vietnam War. So, why is all of this happening now?

I have one word to share with you about this book - WOW! Thomas Holland sure does have a talent when it comes to writing. I really took a liking to Kel in One Drop of Blood, and my feelings about this character haven't changed. I will admit that he had his Southern heritage going for him right off the bat. Kel is from Western Arkansas, where most of my father's family hails from. I smile just hearing the dialect in his dialogue. It's a beautiful sound. And the Southern colloquialisms are just so funny. Shuck contributes quite a few of his own in this book. For example, when Shuck is speaking to General Anderson about a possible lead, the General asks him if he thinks this lead is connected to Kel's case, and Shuck answers him, "Well now, don't know that I'd hunt that dog just yet, it's probably another dead end." Rather funny way to reply to the general, I'd think.

Another element of Kel's character that I love is his aversion to the telephone. I love this characteristic because I share this aversion with him.

Kel sat at his desk looking at the telephone, steeling himself as if he was preparing to walk on a bed of hot coals. It was bordering on something clinical. Phobia? Dysfunction? Whatever it was, he approached making telephone calls with the same degree of reflexive dread that he reserved for answering them. His palms had actually started to moisten.

I do believe I can relate to that feeling! And Kel's most endearing quality to me is his quick wit. Holland had me laughing heartily almost right off the bat when Kel is a meeting with his boss, Colonel Boschet (a.k.a. "Colonel Botch-It").

'And how about you, Doctor McKelvey? Do I look like a moron to you?'

Les tried to stop Kel but reacted too slowly. He barely had time to mutter, 'Oh, crap.'

Kel leaned forward to better peer around Neep's intervening shoulder. 'No sir, Colonel. I think by definition, morons have to have an IQ over forty-nine. I suspect you're more in the imbecile range.'

Now Kel has some pretty good job security, but isn't there a boss you've had that you would LOVE to say that to? I love intelligent humor from the characters in my crime fiction novels!

The plot in this story is absolutely phenomenal. It's tight, concise; no unnecessary fluff. Each character, each event plays an essential part in the overall story. And the plot twists are stellar. I like Holland's effect of ending a chapter leaving the reader knowing that what he/she initially thought was going to happen, isn't really the direction the plot is going after all, and at the same time, the reader doesn't know now what IS going to happen. You find yourself saying, "just one more chapter" so many times because you have to find out just where Holland is taking you next.

The last point I want to mention about K.I.A. is Holland's use of language. There aren't a lot of writers that really WOW me with their use of language, but Holland has made that distinguished list. There is often a stereotype associated with Southern dialect and colloquialisms. But Kel uses both of these in his dialogue and you as the reader, still respect Kel as an intelligent, educated, competent professional. Holland beautifully breaks the stereotype and uses those devices to his benefit.

Some other sections that stuck out to me in Holland's use of language and devices:

Over the last several years the U.S. - Socialist Republic of Vietnam Joint Forensic Reviews had become something of a formality, an exercise in the First Principle of Bureaucratic Inertia: that a procedure put in place will remain in place long after anyone involved can remember why.

There doesn't tend to be an overwhelming amount of anthropological science in Holland's books. These are more plot focused, but I do love the way he works science into the framework, even in places you might not expect it to be.

At the same time, the books aren't overwhelmed by only allusions to science. He presents two different viewpoints of the sound of the Vietnamese language. Ed Milligan, a Staff Sergeant investigating possible locations of American soldiers killed in Vietnam, heard "chickens clucking", whereas Caroline Thompson, an anthropologist heard "music." There's a lot of intrigue in those different perceptions.

This book was just an absolutely wonderful read; from plot to character to language, it's extremely well written and just fun.


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