|Margaret I. Williams: A Conspiracy to Ponder|
Books (Paperback), ISBN 1-58982-109-2
The novel's premise sounds promising -- serial kidnappings of African-American women in Chicago connected to an international organ-selling black market. Margaret I. Williams based this first novel on her own narrow escape from an attempted kidnapping right in front of her house. She never discovered the kidnappers' identities or motive. Williams wrote the novel to heighten awareness of street dangers and answer the fictional question of "what might have happened."
As a heart transplant recipient, I know about the organ supply crisis. The man across the hospital hall from me died waiting for a heart. In the United States stealing organs remains an urban legend, but the Chinese remove organs from executed criminals, and the poor in India sell kidneys for cash.
Williams, however, squanders the suspense with a pokey and unrealistic police investigation. Early on, Chicago detective Joe Clark inadvertently discovers the kidnappers and their lair. He calls Captain Roy Mallory, who, rather than organizing a SWAT team, tells Joe to "keep me posted every step of the way." The captain's response simply doesn't make sense, given the 13 women already kidnapped. Even worse, this "wait and see" attitude enables the kidnappers to snag two more victims.
Yet, Williams creates two major problems realistically impeding the investigation. One proves positively ingenious, although somewhat over the top. Wu Chong, a reporter who travels from China and hooks up with the investigation, provides the realism for this ruse. Wu Chong also alerts Joe and the other police to the donor organ black market, and explains why the kidnappers choose only African-American women. Joe and Wu Chong, however, never display the spark essential to the "buddy" relationship Williams intends.
The novel suffers from overwrought writing and a superfluous subplot involving Joe's neighborhood gang past and murdered brother. This story's tie-in with the main plot feels forced.
Characterization creates suspense. The more real the characters, the more gripping their fates. The reader bonds with characters who possess developed personalities, psychological depth and unexpected twists. When the writer signals an upcoming bang unknown to the characters, the reader anxiously watches the danger unfold. Williams'characters, however, lack the necessary development to make the reader care about them. A Conspiracy to Ponder never fulfills Hitchcock's "Big Bang" theory.
Lynn I. Miller
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