Reviewer Bryant Wieneke’s (Niger 1974-76) is the Assistant Dean for Policy in the College of Letters and Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of a series of peace-oriented suspense novels that are available for $10 each through his own micro publishing company at Peace Rose Publishing.

green-pearl-odyssey-140Green Pearl Odyssey
Reilly Ridgell (Micronesia 1971–73)
Blue Ocean Press
$16.95
468 pages
February 2010

Reviewed by Bryant Wieneke’s (Niger 1974–76)

IF YOU LIKE SUSPENSE NOVELS set in exotic places, this is a good one.

Scott Taylor, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Micronesia, witnesses the murder of his wife and brother by Page 10 of Green Pearl Odyssey.  He exacts his revenge by Page 20. The remainder of the novel is devoted to the game of global hide-and-seek between Taylor and a crime kingpin obsessed with rubbing him out.

Taylor’s odyssey begins in Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands. Taylor is in hiding, but he’s also returning to the place where he met his Mortlockese wife.  His odyssey is a journey of the soul as he attempts to reconcile his self-image with the reality that he could kill a man for revenge.

The crime-and-punishment theme might have been more compelling if the author had introduced it earlier. Taylor’s moral dilemma is not presented until after he kills, and it comes as somewhat of a surprise to him that he has pulled the trigger with such equanimity. Nonetheless, Taylor’s internal struggle reflects the outer turmoil as he tries to work his way through tragedy and violence to a new life.

After narrowly escaping hit men, Taylor is off to Pohnpei.  Having been a PCV in the Marshalls, he knows the islands well.  While Taylor doesn’t reveal how he has avenged his wife, the islanders seem to know and understand. They protect him even as the danger increases. Despite his best attempts to keep the islanders out of it, he discovers that he needs them to stay alive.

The island hopping is an exhilarating adventure, mixing alluring descriptions of Micronesia with a plot full of twists and turns. The most exciting of the confrontations is the last one, when the bad guys take their relentless pursuit of Scott Taylor to the remote Puluwat Atoll. Ironically, Taylor has already managed to escape with an impressive group of seafaring locals, and the usually pacifistic islanders are left to face four cold-blooded killers on their own.

Thinking quickly, the islanders lead the villians to a former Japanese base on the island of Alei. During World War II, the Japanese established bases like this one on islands in the Pacific Ocean.  They had built a fortress on Alei and brought in vehicles, construction equipment, and a variety of weapons, all of which they had long ago left behind to rust in the island’s tropical climate and lush foliage. The islanders use these tools — and considerable ingenuity — to outwit the killers and give Taylor yet another push toward freedom.

The novel depicts the culture and economy of this purported paradise with the insight of someone who has lived there.  While author Ridgell may have been better off letting his readers come to their own conclusions about some of Micronesia’s social issues — the economic influence of the U.S., the disruptive presence of missionaries, and the repressive nature of imported sexual mores, the description of the issues and the main character’s feelings about them are articulately presented.  They will probably come as no surprise to anyone who has lived in a less developed country.

There may be a little too much talk in this long novel (456 pages), but Reilly Ridgell is a good writer and has created a real page-turner in Green Pearl Odyssey.

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