I have been a Charlie Cates fan since I first read The Gates of Evangeline. Her struggles with money, with her past tragedies as well as relationships, make her a realistic heroine. Her struggles with her gift are equally honest. After all, who wants it known that you have unexplainable powers of foresight?
The settings of Hester Young’s novels are always as much a part of the story as the people with whom she populates them. This time, Charlie visits the Big Island of Hawai’i but not the touristy portion of the island. Instead, the story keeps to the less inhabited eastern shores with its more natural and rugged setting. The lush jungle, the unfamiliar animals and their sounds create an ominous atmosphere akin to the bayous of Louisiana in their foreignness. Not knowing what is hiding among the visually impenetrable vegetation ratchets the tension in a way that a city setting would not be able to accomplish.
The small towns Charlie encounters while on her vacation have an equally quirky vibe to them. One experiences a similar out-of-body feeling as obtained while watching the television show Twin Peaks. Among the townspeople are some downright quirky people, all of whom are obviously hiding something from the curious out-of-towners.
While the individual components appear to be a bit too over-the-top to work together, Ms. Young builds her story in such a way that collectively they work and work well. She lets Charlie tell the story rather than forcing the more extreme elements on the reader, which makes sure those elements impact the story but in a subtle fashion. It is not until you look back where you realize just how odd the whole story could have been had Ms. Young made different decisions.
While The Burning Island is a good novel, I am not confident it will have the same appeal to readers unfamiliar with the first two books in this series. The stories can more or less stand on their own, but it is Charlie’s growth over the three novels that is a large part of their appeal. From that first moment in The Gates of Evangeline when we experience Charlie’s very first premonition to this last book where she must decide whether she will continue to publicly pretend there is nothing otherworldly about her ability to help missing children, the appeal is watching Charlie wrestle with this last issue when it comes to her skills.
To that end, I found The Burning Island highly enjoyable because I do know how far Charlie has come. Moreover, the mystery upon which Charlie stumbles kept my interest and kept me guessing, while the glimpse into the non-tourist parts of Hawai’i set the perfect tone while proving that even on paradise terrible things happen.