Sunday, May 17, 2009

Book Review: Burnt Sienna, by David Morrell

On Friday I finished Burnt Sienna, 2000, Warner Books, ISBN 0-446-51964-2, a novel by David Morrell. This is the second of Morrell's novels I've read. The first was The Totem. That was a medical thriller. This was...I'm not sure what genre to put it in. A thriller, I guess.

Chase Malone had been a soldier, having piloted helicopters in the Panama invasion of 1989 and come away from that scarred. Yes, he was wounded, but more importantly he wound up with a dislike for authority of any type. Thus he left the military and took up painting--not houses, as a landscape artist. In ten years he won some renown, and some collectors would pay as much as $200,000 for one of his works. He lived in Cozumel, right on the ocean.

Derek Bellasar, who lived in France, tried to hire him to paint two painting of his wife, one a facial shot and one a nude. Malone turned down the commission, because of his problems with authority. Malone didn't know Bellasar was a powerful dealer in illegal munitions. Bellasar quickly began interfering in Malone's life, closing his favorite restaurant and buying his property out from under him. One of Malone's ex-army buddies showed up. Now working for the CIA, this man talked Malone into accepting the commission, going to Bellasar's estate near Nice, France, and finding out more about his operation.

The other part of Malone's assignment was to get Bellasar's wife out of the compound. It seemed that Bellasar had had three prior wives, all as beautiful as the current one, named Sienna, but they all died in mysterious circumstances about the age of 30, when the bloom of youthful beauty first began to fade. Right before each of them died Bellasar had hired famous artists to paint them, facial and nude.

The story began somewhat predictably. I found myself trying to anticipate the plot (the curse of a wannabe novelist) and being successful at it. I predicted Malone would fall for Sienna, that he would get her out, and how he would get her out. However, all this happened by about the middle of the book; obviously I had miscalculated. Morrell continued to weave his story, giving additional predicaments for Malone to work his way out of. I won't say much more so as to not give away more of the plot.

The book is an amazingly easy read. Chapters are short, typically two or three pages. Sometimes a chapter break is not even a scene break. Morrell's writing is spare of excess verbiage, except perhaps in some of the weapons scene. He keeps the story moving. He keeps the plot twists coming. He avoids gratuitous sex and violence. I read it in a little over a week, despite the limited time I had to give to reading. The twenty-five pages a day I had set as a goal was too easy, and I did more than that most days.

I recommend this book to any who like thrillers. It has a few swear words, but it they are sprinkled in very naturally, not gratuitously at all.

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