Book Review: Trace, by Sam Starbuck – 4.5 stars   Leave a comment

I’ve tried half a dozen times to come up with a different way of introducing Trace, by Sam Starbuck. I give up. It’s like White Collar meets Bless Me Ultima, and if that’s not quirky enough to catch your attention, I don’t know what is.

Trace is the story of Colin Byrne, an ex-felon who can’t be seen when he doesn’t want to be. He’s about to go undercover to help track down a money-laundering operation running through Railburg State Correctional Facility. But prison changes people in ways they could never have imagined, and once back inside, Colin finds himself thrust deeply back into the world of prison magic. The prisoners say that the magic comes when you need it, and boy, is he going to need it.

The thing I found most fascinating about this book is the way that a very harsh, gritty reality meets seamlessly with the intrusion of quiet–but not necessarily small–magics. The author brings the world inside Railburg to life with strong descriptions and a subtle touch. The prose is easy to lose yourself in, and the characters are compelling. Together, these elements build a world where a man can read your fortune by looking you in the eye and childhood stories can kill, and as a reader, you’ll believe that world every step of the way.

The only thing keeping me from giving this the full five stars is a subplot that lacked a little closure for me. Given the complexity of the story, this is a minor flaw, but I did want to understand the woman who watches Colin, and at the end of it, my guesses were still just that: guesses. It’s not the kind of flaw that keeps a good book from being a great book. It’s the kind of flaw that keeps a great book from being phenomenal. Let’s call it 4.5 stars.

Trace is the exception to the rule that self-published books are self-published because they didn’t cut it for professional publication. It’s available not only in ePub and dead tree formats, but also as a free PDF, for those who want a taste that shows the writer actually knows what he’s doing. If you read and like the free PDF, though, consider paying $3 for the ePub. Writers need to eat.

Posted April 24, 2012 by April L'Orange in Uncategorized

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