A.W. Baldwin ingeniously deploys classic adventure tropes in Diamonds of Devil’s Tail, dusting them off and resurrecting them like the treasure-seekers in his tale. In it, an incredibly gymnastic cat burglar pulls off the jewel heist of the century; members of a white-water rafting expedition stumble across a spill of diamonds and race to its source; petty criminals searching for Native-American antiquities in the desert for profit get involved in the search as well; and opposing their greed is the phantom-like desert sage, Relic, a mainstay of Baldwin’s series of books.
One great thing about Diamonds of Devil’s Tail is its chapters are very short, so after only a few pages in, readers have already been introduced to several characters with exciting intersecting storylines, tension is ratcheted up to the max, and the story is moving along at breakneck speed. At that point, I was impressed. I thought, man, this is exactly how to write an adventure novel! I’d [i]dare you[/i] to put this book down any time before reading halfway through it, and then, instead of beating that dare, I’ll bet you’ll need a bigger cup of coffee (or two) to get through your next morning because you’ve stayed up most of the night reading it.
But as I got farther through this novel, that strength started to feel like a weakness. The length of its chapters seems a constraint that prevents the novel from breathing and expanding; perhaps they should be lengthened after the first section, the rising action, to allow for more commentary; and not only that, but it also starts to feel like every characters’ actions and thoughts are too closely tied (too constrained) to the novel’s moral/ethical platform, Relic’s environmentalism-tinged platitudes, like: “Wealth has its demands as well as its rewards. Property owns you as much as you own it. The more you have, the more you have to take care of it, the more you’re attached to it. Hell, I started with nothing and I’m proud to say, I still have most of it.”
This novel, at least during its second half, is too “by-the-numbers”; almost nothing comes unexpectedly, and its outcome is all too predictable. Otherwise, Mr. Baldwin’s “rising action,” at least in the first part of his novel, is exceptional, his description of the environment (the setting) is beautiful, his narrative voice is natural and very likable, and even the clarity of his plot (the clear point of his novel) is commendable. I think he’d have a truly great novel on his hands if he’d loosen his rigid adherence to its plot and, likewise, his narrow-sighted focus on its outcome. In other words, he ought to let it meander a bit, allowing his various characters to express themselves, their unique personalities, their backstories, and to grow. See what they have to say. Let them surprise you.
To readers, I’ll summarize: this book is great fun to read—more so than many other non-adventure titles I’ve read—exceptionally well-edited, well-organized (although a bit methodical), and straightforward. For those reasons, I’m giving it 3 out of 4 stars. Read it if you are a fan of classic adventure tales…enjoy!…and look for greater things from Mr. Baldwin as he hopefully expands future narratives to include more of the inner-life, personality, and personal stories of his characters.
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