Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Butterfly Farm by Diane Noble

The Butterfly Farm cover

The Butterfly Farm
by Diane Noble

Trade Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Waterbrook Press
First Released: 2006

Source: Bought through

Back Cover Description:
Newly widowed Harriet MacIver has just taken on her first travel writing assignment–rating an adventure cruise in the Caribbean. Add a gaggle of college students on a mini semester-at-sea voyage, a rusting hulk of a ship that misses more ports than it makes, and two deaths by poisonous butterfly, and Harriet is off and running on a hair-raising adventure. And that’s before two coeds, Kate and Carly, go missing–Carly being her boss’s daughter.

Pulled into a dangerous web of bioethical intrigue, Harriet races against time. If the killer isn’t stopped, Kate and Carly will die–and that may only be the beginning of his plans for destruction.

With scant clues and fewer resources, Harriet must track down the college girls–and outmaneuver a murderer who is only part of an elaborate plot of medical madness. Travel writing certainly isn’t what Harriet thought it would be.

Spiked with suspense and bioethical intrigue, The Butterfly Farm invites you to solve a Caribbean puzzle with travel’s most delightful woman of mystery.

The Butterfly Farm is a Christian mystery novel about discovering the whereabouts of several kidnapped girls. For the reader, it's not so much figuring out who did it or how but in seeing how Harriet MacIver will figure it out. The clues were very obvious, and (this was a group read) all three of us readers had the "who done it" and why figured out long before Harriet did.

I found Harriet's personality and lack of cleverness rather frustrating, but this wasn't due to lack of good writing. The novel was well-written, with excellent world-building, interesting and complex characters, and very good pacing and suspense. We eagerly kept reading because we wanted to know how Harriet solved the mystery.

The "problem" was that Harriet was naive and very trusting of even those she suspected might be bad guys. I wanted to shake some sense into her (though I'm not sure how shaking helps) every time she told important, life-or-death secrets to people she suspected might be bad guys just because she saw some good in them and they offered to help. If she was a young woman, I'd be more willing to accept and even enjoy this character trait, but she's old enough to have adult kids and so I expected her to have a bit more discernment.

My other disappointment was the Christian content. It annoyed me that every time Harriet was about to do something illegal and/or very foolish (due to not thinking out the consequences), she'd pray to God to help her get away with it. This wasn't being presented as something one ought to do or even that it helped her, but I was frustrated that she never realized what she was doing. She also seemed to think she wasn't breaking the law simply because she did it to help other people.

Though the novel was not preachy, there were enough prayers and Christian talk that non-Christians probably wouldn't enjoy it.

There was no sex. There was a very minor amount of bad language. This mystery novel would probably appeal most to those who don't mind somewhat-bumbling amateur detectives and don't primarily read mysteries for the challenge of figuring out who-done-it. Overall, the novel was well-written, clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Prologue
At 11:38 a.m. on day three of the spring-break adventure cruise, Carly Lowe was ready to make her escape. She tramped down the gangway, a crowd of passengers growing around her like a giant ameba and adding to her annoyance. The rattletrap ship was too small, the stuffy lectures too boring, the same old group she hung with at Shepparton College, too predictable. Why should she spend another day with any of them, especially today, lurching along by aerial tram through a drizzling, bug-infested rain forest?

Drifting toward the back of the group, she turned her thoughts to Julian Mendez. The fiery-eyed Latino had asked her to meet him just before noon in front of Club Bolero. It was a date she intended to keep. He was totally sweet…and hot. Capital H hot. And he played guitar. She’d heard him play onboard and loved the sound.

Following Ricki Ross, the ship’s naturalist, the group trailed into the deserted main street of Parisima. Harriet MacIver walked beside Carly, but the older woman was paying no attention to her. She had whipped out her notepad and was writing down some bit of scientific trivia imparted by the man to her left, Dr. Jean Baptiste, the onboard guest lecturer on the scientific wonders of the human body. Bo-ring.

Ricki Ross walked backward, holding high an unfurled umbrella as she shouted last-minute instructions about splitting into two groups— one led by her ecologist husband, Gregory; the other by Ricki herself. The umbrella thing was weird because it wasn’t as if they were surrounded by hordes of other tourists. Parisima was practically deserted.

For several minutes Carly pretended to hang on Ricki’s every word, but as the group rounded a corner, she ducked behind a potted palm. She waited, peering through the fronds, as the last of the passengers straggled along. If Harriet or any of the others noticed she wasn’t with them, they would assume she was with the other group.

Read more from the prologue.

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