Monday, October 2, 2017

Book Review of Smile and Walk Away by Kelli Keith

Book Review

Kelli Keith

Book Title:
Smile and Walk Away (Shattered, Book 1)

Book Author:
Danielle Riedel

Date of Publication:
July 2017

Number of Pages:

Main Characters:
Velma Bloom (Daphne Kelly) is an independent, former upper middle class suburbanite who is navigating her way outside of the bubble to in which she was born. With a love of booze, books, and cigarettes, she learns there is more to her story than meets the eye.
Detective Jackson Duran is a newly promoted detective with the Yonkers police department. His love for books is only outweighed by his love of booze. He considers himself a police officer that works according to his own code of honor.

Other Important Characters: 
Brett Riley - Velma’s best friend since childhood. They were in a committed relationship in high school but currently maintain casual, intimate house calls.
Robert Drake (Gabriel Majors) - Former CIA operative, willing participant in genetic experimentation, and biological father of Velma.
Alexei Novikov (Leonid Volkov) - Former Soviet GRU operative and Doctor of Anesthesiology who aided and befriended Robert Drake in life and death.

Yonkers, New York and surrounding areas; present day.

Everything about Velma Bloom—her taste in cars, booze, and boys— seems like a deliberate defiance of her upper-middle class upbringing and Vassar matriculation. When she is reported missing, Detective Jackson Duran will learn, nothing is as it seems. Thrust onto a trail of buried secrets, CIA experiments, and Russian agents, each must decide what is truly important or risk being shattered.

Key Points/Conflict:
The story transports the reader between different points in time over the span of three years (aside from the prologue, which happens in 1981). We begin with Daphne Kelly, formerly Velma Bloom, fleeing New York on a plane bound for Paris. Reported missing by her parents and employer the newly pinned detective, Jackson Duran, is assigned to the case—his first case. The author transports us back the 2005 and begins to lay the ground work for the events leading to Velma’s disappearance. Velma graduated from Vassar and rebelliously refuses to enter graduate school and further stuns her parents by taking a job as a dive bar waitress in Yonkers.

For three years, Velma carves out a life away from the pristine suburbs of her White Plains home. The bar patrons and staff are colorful characters that provide Velma with an education she could never receive within the confines of her privileged bubble. One night a new customer appears, she dubs him “The Quiet Man” because he never utters a word. This not-so-chance encounter would forever change the course of her life.

The “Quiet Man” is Dr. Alexei Novikov, former Russian operative and anesthesiologist. He informs Velma that she is adopted and her biological father was a CIA operative that was a test subject for a top secret genetic alteration program and recently expired from lung cancer. Once the program ended, Robert Drake was placed on paid leave and began a new life. Ultimately, the CIA wanted to dispose of Drake to tie up the loose ends of the failed experiments. By this time, Velma’s biological mother was pregnant. Drake lived the remainder of his days in Russia, never forgetting Velma or her mother, Annalise.

Velma and her father not only shared fiery red hair but, he passed on his genetic mutations to his daughter—they could both shatter glass with their minds. Both spent years attempting to control and manipulate their “gifts”. It was this “gift” that placed them both in danger. While Velma tried to utilize the power for good, her secret escaped with she used the power to defend herself from a robber.

From the moment the robbery happened, Alexei prepares her to flee, fearing she could be apprehended by the CIA and destroyed. With a series of near misses and the loss of Alexei, she narrowly escapes New York with her life. The story leaves us on a cliffhanger, with her tending bar on a Mexican island, her father watching her from a distance.

After such a tantalizing prologue, the impatient reader will be salivating for the author to explain the relevance of the following thirteen chapters. Chapter fourteen arrives and the plot points are finally assembling to create a well-researched and cleverly crafted thriller. The beginning of the novel feels more like an ethnography of “dive bar life” by a field anthropologist than a novel. This may seem like a disapproving comment, but it is far from it—it makes the characters feel like I could walk into the bar and have a drink with Lonnie and Edie.

The continuity of the novel, although told through flashbacks and current dialog, was flawless. At no point will the reader be lost or confused as to where they should be in the story; for it is clearly marked at the beginning of each chapter.

The characteristics/idiosyncrasies of the characters are believable. If the reader is unsure what it is like to be a functioning alcoholic, it will become very clear by the end of the book! The author’s love of literature is apparent throughout. Pairing alcoholic beverages with specific works is a brilliant way to honor the literary greats and their legacies of the self-destructive behaviors that fueled their writings.

When it comes to thrillers, especially those with writings about the CIA, DARPA, etc., I am extremely critical. This work of fiction was superbly done and deserves some time in the spotlight. I look forward to the next books in the series.

Smile and Walk Away is available on Amazon, KoboBarnes & Noble, and at the Champagne Bookstore.

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