Random House, Alibi: 6/3/2014
eBook, 240 pages
Travel Writer Series #1
Award-winning author Jeff Soloway debuts an entertaining new mystery series featuring a globe-trotting, caper-solving travel writer with a witty voice and a penchant for landing in sticky situations.
At a posh South American resort tucked into the lush jungles of the Andes, an American journalist has gone missing, leaving the hotel’s PR agent, Pilar Rojas, with an international incident on her hands. Which is why she offers her ex-lover, travel writer Jacob Smalls, an all-expenses-paid trip to the resort in exchange for a puff piece extolling its virtues—and some behind-the-scenes digging into the disappearance. Intrigued by the prospect of winning Pilar back—and eager, as always, for freebies—Jacob hops the first flight to La Paz, Bolivia.
Although he hasn’t seen Pilar in years, Jacob finds her just as intoxicating as he did when they were together. But from the moment he hits the city’s cobbled streets, Jacob attracts all the wrong kinds of attention. Political flunkies and goons of all stripes try to scare him off the trail, while the missing woman’s not-quite boyfriend insists on shadowing Jacob’s every move. And amid ancient Incan hillside terraces, a world-class hotel conceals a secret that may kill.
The Travel Writer by Jeff Soloway is a recommended debut mystery series featuring Jacob Smalls as a smart aleck travel guide writer turned sleuth. When veteran American travel editor Hilary Pearson is missing and presumed kidnapped from the Matamoros, a Bolivian Hotel, Pilar Rojas, the PR agent and an old friend of Smalls contacts him. Pilar offers Smalls an all-expense paid trip to the Bolivian resort if he will just write a complementary piece about the hotel.
Smalls admits, "I’m a travel writer, and corrupt as they come. I’d sell my journalistic principles for two nights at the Four Seasons with a free meal and a massage. I’ve been wheedled and bribed and plied with bottles of wine worth more than my laptop, and I’ve rarely failed to succumb to the temptation of providing a puff review. But I was not entirely without ambition. That afternoon I had for the first time inspired hate, not just disdain, from a hotel employee—if that’s what Gonzales was. I had stumbled onto something, perhaps a crime worth uncovering, or at least a story worth writing about." (Location 142)
All Pilar wants is a shill to write the pro-Matamoros propaganda piece, but Smalls decides to investigate Hilary's disappearance with some help from Kenny, a goofy, naive co-worker of Hilary's who is sure they have a relationship. Smalls is a rather hapless, but clever narrator who displays plenty of self-deprecating humor and some interesting descriptions and outlooks on life. He's hardly anyone's first choice for an investigator. “What makes you think you can find her?” she asked. “The FBI couldn’t. You’re just a guidebook writer.” Guidebook writers are the peasantry of travel writers. Apparently my magazine work hadn’t caught Lisa’s attention, which wasn’t surprising. It hadn’t caught anyone else’s." (Location 323)
While the actual plot isn't full of suspense or intrigue, the beauty and fun in Soloway's debut novel is in his laugh aloud descriptions:
"I slipped the clerk my passport, and he hammered my name, two-fingered, into his computer keyboard, pausing for one heartbeat between each letter, perhaps to facilitate the computer’s comprehension of the outlandish 'Jacob Smalls.'"
Or "Her placid eyes widened in respect, as if she’d been told he owned a unicorn."
The Travel Writer is an entertaining start to a new series. I laughed along with Smarts and liked him. Now let's hope he has a more intriguing, tough mystery/crime to solve in his next outing.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House via Netgalley for review purposes.