02 October 2012

Review: Bella by Steve Piacente

When I picked up Bella by author Steve Piacente, I wasn't sure what to expect. I had seen it classed as a political thriller, a mystery/thriller, a romance. Sort of all over the gamut. For me, it turned out to be a character study into the minds of the two main protagonists, Dan Patragno, a mediocre journalist who is dissatisfied with his life, and Isabel Moss, a beautiful young widow whose husband was recently killed in Afghanistan. I was drawn into the story by the author's writing style, which just seemed to flow. His crafting of the characters in this story was what kept me reading, though. I am not just talking about Dan and Isabel, either. I was excited to see that Piacente had included a number of subsidiary characters that were rich and interesting, even down to the characters with the smallest roles. The story was peppered with real people and real emotions, however flawed they were or unexplainable their actions seemed. 

As a political thriller, however, I felt the book fell short. I read a lot of thrillers, and when I do I am generally looking for one of two things. First and foremost, I love to be surprised by them. Nothing makes me sit up and take notice, or rave about a book more, for that matter, than when an author takes a story in an unexpected direction or makes a character do something that I totally did not see coming. Neither of those things happened for me in this book. It was pretty apparent to me early on where the political side of this story was going to go, and I was not wrong in my presumptions. I will still give high marks, though, if a book is not surprising, but has a mystery that I enjoyed solving along with the characters in the book. In this case, this book did a reasonably good job, but I still enjoyed the characters and their flaws more than the mystery story line. To me, the mystery part of this story was simply a venue for the characters to showcase their flaws and foibles. 

All in all, though, I think the author said it best when he said, "Bella is usually described as a political thriller, but the novel is mostly about the relationship between Bella, the alluring widow, and Dan, the married reporter she persuades to help her uncover the truth about her husband's death." I totally agree with him and as such the book is a success. If you are indeed writing what you know, Steve, please keep it up. You have a talent character studies.

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