Spirit Me Away by Aaron Paul Lazar took me back to a time I lived through, but don’t remember. I was six years old in the summer of ’69 and though I have since seen numerous depictions on television and in the media, I can’t honestly say any of it rings a particular bell. Lazar manages to take what has always been a mist-shrouded time period for me, and refine it into a peculiar clarity which I can view through the eyes of the eminently likeable Gus LeGarde. He manages to avoid one of the major tropes of the mystery genre by developing a hero/heroine duo who remind me more of Ward and June Cleaver than Nick and Nora Charles, but who still manage to combine some of the most charming elements of both.
To begin with, Gus is not a detective. He’s a struggling music student who readily and proudly admits that his wife if far more talented than he is. He is disarmingly naïve without being irritatingly stupid. Especially in mysteries, I like my protagonists to be intelligent since it’s annoying to spend the entire book wanting to smack them upside the head and shout, “get a clue, won’t you?” But Gus isn’t stupid; he is simply, enchantingly, young. He makes mistakes (don’t we all?) but he learns from them. He doesn’t pretend to be Superman, but he is brave enough to step out anyway and do what needs to be done, all the while dealing with the angst and self-doubt we can all identify with.
The plot moves quickly and follows a logical, if occasionally surprising, sequence. The book in general is tightly written and well-paced without a lot of overwriting and no plot holes that I saw. There is an authenticity to the setting and mood that I found engaging and the combination of subject and setting was an interesting departure from the norm, especially since human trafficking has been so much on the public radar recently. Setting the story in the sixties and telling it from such a personal angle kept the writing fresh and topical. First person narratives do tend to be problematic, in my view, because of the tendency of the narrative toward overt introspection, but Lazar handles even this fairly well.
I did have one problem with the text. Elsbeth. She is really cute and very sweet. I know people just like her. But her utter helplessness bothered me. Though she is presented as a smart, talented young woman with a gentle and motherly heart, she seemed flat to me. I recognize that Gus is the protagonist, but I’d like to have seen a little more fire and depth from his lovely side-kick, especially considering some of the events in this book. Nope, no spoilers. You’ll have to read the book.
And you should. Despite the issue of Elsbeth, Spirit Me Away is a good summer read and one I think you’ll enjoy.