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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Review - Undercurrents

I reviewed the first book in the series, Endangered (click here) and the second book, Bear Bait (click here) as well as interviewed the author (click here.)  I eagerly anticipate each new release and this is quickly becoming a favorite series.  For this installment, we travel to Ecuador for a suspenseful underwater adventure. 

Author: Pamela Beason

Copyright: April 2013 (Berkley) 336 pgs

Series: 3rd in Summer Westin Mysteries

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Suspense

Main Characters: Summer Westin, Wildlife biologist on short-term internet reporter job

Setting: Modern day, Galapagos Islands

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Sam (Summer) jumps at a short term assignment that will pay her a healthy salary for a week of work in the historic Galapagos Islands. She has to quickly take scuba lessons, because her assignment is to cover a marine survey (accessing marine life numbers), take pictures and video, then write online posts from two different aspects.  It sounds like an easy way to make some good money, practically a vacation.  Well....

Sam barely lands and she is whisked out to sea to begin her assignment for "Out There" with Dr. Daniel Kazaki of the Natural Planet Foundation (NPF), diving amidst giant tortoises, marine iguanas, sea cucumbers, territorial sea lions, and schooling hammerheads.  But Dr. Kazaki's air supply was polluted with carbon monoxide that an inexperienced Sam is challenged to save him.  When they return from the near fatal first dive together, they are kicked out of their lodgings. Sam pushes until Dr. Kazaki admits that there is fierce resentment from the fishing industry against any environmental groups. He shrugs off the contaminated air and loss of rooms and finds them other arrangements on a large luxury yacht catering to a handful of tourists. But Sam soon feels that everyone on board has some ties to dangerous anti-environmentalists. 

Sam is required to make her internet posts as herself and also as a fictional identity of "Zing."  She posts a video of carnage to multitudes of sharks as Zing and quickly gets threatening messages in reply.  Apparently, sea cucumbers and shark fins are valuable commodities in the Asian market. She is glad to have a level of anonymity when locals are actually looking for Zing and threatening Sam. While Sam is experiencing her own drama, love interest Chase is undercover for the FBI to infiltrate an extremist hate group at the border.  He is close to death at every turn but his mind is on Summer's online posts and the danger he realizes she must be in.

Sam is stretched to her physical and psychological limits in this addition to the series. She finds herself isolated in a foreign country with no help, even from the embassy.  She is determined and reaches new heights of nerve and steel in the face of a murder that could easily have been her.  FBI agent Chase Perez struggles between his dangerous career and wanting a more picture-perfect life with Summer.  Will his mind being on Summer put his life in danger during this volatile sting operation? Dr. Daniel Kazaki is a break out character that the reader quickly grows fond of.  Dr. Juanita Jane (JJ) Bradley appears about two-thirds of the way into the book, but her mythic strength of character and sheer grit are memorable.  Maya, a troubled youth from the Bear Bait novel, is present in this book briefly.  I enjoy Maya's addition and look forward to her developing in the books as well.  Then there is Sam's task-master from "Out There", Tad Wyatt.  He is single-minded in gaining readers and what will profit "Out There", but in the end he comes through.

The Galapagos Islands in Ecuador and the underwater menagerie are vividly portrayed.  Because of the plot revolving around preserving a historic region of wildlife versus opportunistic international fishing interests, the reader needed to experience the wonder of the marine life that is at stake.  The area is painted in its wonder and stark reality both. You felt like you were diving with Summer and marveling at the underwater mystery and glory along with her.  Kudos - particularly since I have such a fear of being trapped underwater that I questioned if I could stand to read an underwater adventure.  The portions that are following Chase in the harsh desert are equally well painted.

The plotting was tight and the pacing kept a steady tempo. It could be a bit jarring to swap from Summer to Chase, or vise versa.  But I also appreciated knowing what was happening on both fronts.  In the end, it added to the suspense with a cliff hanger about Chase that the reader doesn't know what happened until Summer finds out. 

The suspense steadily built up to the climax.  The reveal of the killer was unique and I felt very well done.  The wrap-up leaves the reader practically aching for more.

I have to say that each book seems to best the prior one.  This is the most outstanding one yet, and I loved the previous two.  This should be in hardback and promoted more, it is that good - in my opinion.

Rating: Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend. 

Here is a short video clip of diving in the Galapagos to set the scene for the book.

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