Undercurrent, the second novel in the Sam Wallace, Sarasota based series brings back Sam and a few of his friends along with many new characters that populate Sarasota, Florida and Miami. Sam now has a private investigator’s
Wallace avoids sophomore slump in Undercurrent
Bob Morrison, correspondent
Sarasota Herald Tribune
When the first book in a series is well-written and well-received, you wonder how the sequel will fare.
Wayne Barcomb’s mystery, Blood Tide, was not only a taut thriller, but a marvelous look at the foibles, fantasies, fun and fakery of the denizens of Sarasota’s various social strata.
The second of Barcomb’s Sam Wallace thrillers, Undercurrent, made its way in to bookstore shelves a few weeks ago. So how does it compare? Is Wallace a literary one-trick pony?
In a word, no. If anything, Undercurrent is better-written, much more complex and more hard-edged than its predecessor.
Clearly, Barcomb, is comfortable with Sam Wallace and the retinue of characters he created in Blood Tide, some of whom return for an encore.
Marine biologist Jennifer Belding is back as Sam’s love interest, though their romance goes through a rough patch in this book.
Diane Lewis, chief homicide detective with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, returns. Her relationship with Sam continues to be prickly and ambiguous.
And Jimbo Conlin is back. When we first met him in Blood Tide, he was an obnoxious, overweight Neanderthal of a developer, but when Sam saved him from having a murder charge filed against him, he became a pussycat.
Undercurrent plunges right into the harrowing account of the murder of environmental attorney Maggie Robbins.
The killing is witnesses by Larry Gump, a voyeur who’s made a habit of peeping in Maggie’s bedroom window.
After helping the Sheriff’s Office solve three murders in Blood Tide, Sam applied for and got a private investigators license, little thinking he’d actually get to use it.
He enjoys his cottage on Siesta Key, writing his mystery novels, walking his mixed-breed dog, Henry, around Siesta Village, driving his vintage 1969 Mercedes 280SE convertible and romancing Jennifer.
An accumulation of circumstantial evidence leads Diane Lewis and her crew to focus their attention on Sarah Hastings as their No. 1 suspect.
Hastings, owner of a PR firm and a former close friend of Maggie Robbins’, hires Sam to “find the real killer.” He agrees, even though he’s not sure she’s innocent.
He’s even less sure after he learns she’s withheld a vital part of the story of her relationship with Maggie from him.
However, she’s not the only suspect. Bryce Hanson, Maggie’s brother, is spearheading a massive Siesta Key development that would threaten Maggie’s pet project, saving sea turtles.
And Sam learns that Bryce and Maggie were barely speaking to each other because of conflict over their father’s will.
Frank Baumert, a drug dealer, is another suspect. Maggie was unsuccessful in defending him in a criminal case, and he publicly threatened to kill her.
Maggie’s husband, Paul, sometimes plays tennis with Sam at the Bath & Racquet Club. Paul was at a business meeting in Miami with his partner, Mark Folven, when Maggie was killed.
The more Sam pokes and prods and snoops(he’s not above breaking and entering if it serves his purpose), the more he finds that just about everyone involved in the case has something to hide.
His house is broken into and his notes on the case are disturbed. Someone attacks Sarash in her office and almost kills her. Gump the peeper winds up dead, the fatal consequence of his attempt to blackmail the murderer. Baumert is found dead in a Tampa motel room.
Barcomb deserves extra points for playing fair with his readers. Pay attention, and if you’re really sharp, you’ll get a pretty good hint about who did it even before Sam does.
He crafts an ending to the story that proves he’s not afraid to take a chance.
Written badly, it would have come off as one of those “now, who’s going to believe that?” endings.
But Barcomb writes it well, and it dazzles.
license and is also enjoying his writing career
and his romance with Jennifer Belding, Ph.D biologist and resident expert on Red Tide and sea turtle nesting at the Galt Marine Laboratory. Environmental-activist and Attorney Maggie Robbins is found murdered in her Siesta Key home in a posh neighborhood where recent burglaries have occurred. Several prominent and not so prominent people in town have reason to want Maggie dead, and her husband, Paul, who was in Miami on business, comes racing home believing he may know who killed his wife.
Sam Wallace, with his recently acquired private investigator’s license and his romance with Marine Biologist Dr. Jennifer Belding, is enjoying the good life in Sarasota writing his detective novels. One of the suspects hires him to help “find the real killer.” He takes on the case albeit uncertain of his client’s professed innocence.
Sam discovers Maggie and her friend Sarah Hastings were at the forefront of a fierce campaign fighting developers. Maggie’s brother, Bryce, has proposed a mega-sized resort on a pristine section of Siesta Key beach front that they view as threatening the community’s charm and the environment, particularly one of Florida’s endangered species, the sea turtles. The murder investigation is conducted against this background.
Sam digs deeper into the investigation despite distractions created by the surprise appearance of his exwife from Boston and Jennifer’s former financé. His efforts to work with Chief Homicide Detective Diane Lewis are met with mixed reactions. In spite of their tenuous relationship they gradually unpeel layers of deception and greed where money, revenge, blackmail, jealously, and fear provide ample motives for murder.
Sam shuttles between Sarasota and Miami, searching for links to the killings. More murders are committed and Sam is caught up in a nightmare of violence and deception. Eventually he discovers the killer’s identity only to find there is nothing he or the police can do. A bizarre twist changes everything.
Sarasota setting fertile ground for author
By SUSAN L. RIFE
Mystery writer Wayne Barcomb is crazy about Sarasota.
It wasn't always thus; when he first moved south in the early 1990s he "missed Boston and the Northeast so much, I couldn't believe it. I used to writhe in agony so much -- why did I do this?" he said.
But Sarasota grew on him. His second Sam Wallace novel, "Undercurrent," allows him to explore the evolution of his feelings for his new hometown along with the evolution of his main character.
In "Undercurrent" (Hot House Press, $24), attorney and environmental activist Maggie Robbins is found slain in her Siesta Key home. Several people have reason to wish her dead -- all that pesky activism about the fate of sea turtles has coastal developers unhappy -- and Wallcae, a detective novelist who recently acquired his private investigator's license -- is hired by a suspect in her killing.
Writing the second Sam Wallace novel took longer than the first, "Blood Tide," which "rolled out of my head," said Barcomb, a former college textbooks publisher from Boston. "I was able to bring out new sides of Sam. I was trying to bring new substance to him."
Sam still carries on a relationship with Jennifer, a research scientist at the "Galt" Marine Laboratory, but he's not ready to settle into a serious relationship. There's still unfinished business with his ex-wife in Boston, and Jennifer's got her own unfinished relationship with a former fiance.
"Sam's got a bit of a roving eye," said Barcomb. "It was fun to find new and different aspects of Sam's character."
He's at work on the third Sam Wallace book, which also will have an environmental theme, this time related to phosphate mining.
Like Barcomb, Wallace was somewhat wary of Sarasota when he made his debut on the scene. But, said his creator, "He's come to enyjoy it so much and marvel at the cuckoo people. I have a way of ferreting out the weird people. And you never tire of writing about the flora and fauna."
Barcomb moves up another notch on the Florida writer list with latest whodunnit
BY KIM COOL
FEATURES EDITOR, Venice Gondolier
Instead of a boat named the "Busted Flush," newly licensed detective Sam Wallace has what some might consider a well-aged Mercedes, a 1969 280 SE convertible.
Wallace is the creation of Sarasota writer Wayne Barcomb whose latest novel, "Undercurrent" features the twists and turns, interesting characters and local landmarks that were part and parcel of John D. MacDonald's novels. The car and several other character cars could one day become as important to Barcomb's books as the Busted Flush was to the Travis Mcgee series that put MacDonalsd on the map. In Barcomb's case, the local landmarks are mostly in Sarasota and include such spots as Sarasota News & Books, Circle Books on St. Armands, the famed Siesta Key Beach and a place modeled after Mote Marine Laboratory but, for some reason with its name changed to the Galt. Also in the book is good information on endangered sea turtles, with mention of the Sea Turtle Protection League. The name may have been inspired by the Sea Turtle Survival League, a program of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, which is considered to be the world's oldest sea turtle research and conservation group.
Whether some names are real and some aren't matters not. What matters is the story and the characters. "Undercurrent" has a good story, believable characters and a plot that ebbs and flows like the tide that washes in and out of the Gulf of Mexico off Siesta Key. When the league's attorney and environmental activist Maggie Robbins is found murdered in her Siesta Key home, one of the several suspects hires Wallace to "find the real killer". Uncertain of her innocence, Wallace nevertheless takes the case. That he plays an occasional tennis game with Paul, the victim's husband and has what might be described as an awkward relationship with the police department's chief homicide detective adds flavor to an already spicy stew into which a healthy dose of violence and deception have been stirred.
Barcomb's first two novels, "Blood Tide" and "All Are Naked" were just as entertaining as this one, making the Sarasota novelist a three-time winner in this critic's book.
"Undercurrent retails for $24. ISBN 0975524542. Hardback. 332 pages.
Barcomb will sign copies of book at 7 p.m. in the Barnes and Noble store on South Tamiami Trail in Sarasota.