The Rise of the Red Queen

Normally I avoid reviewing books written by friends, so I didn’t write a “Bookin’ for Sunny” piece about Bourne Morris’s first Red Solaris mystery, The Red Queen’s Run. Now I’ve just finished reading Bourne’s second novel, The Rise of the Red Queen, and I simply must share my enthusiasm. This series is excellent—tautly written, with characters whose eccentricities and obsessions come together in intriguing situations. Readers who enjoy tight-knit plots will thoroughly appreciate Bourne’s accomplishments.

Of course I love the setting, too, a university campus located somewhere in northern Nevada, not far from Lake Tahoe. Mountain West isn’t the University of Nevada, Reno, but the resemblance sure is obvious. Red Solaris, the “Red Queen,” is a Journalism professor who suddenly finds herself thrust into an administrative role. The plot of The Red Queen’s Run revolves around the death of the Journalism dean and Red’s subsequent actions. Not only is she asked to serve as the interim dean, but she also finds herself investigating the mystery of her mentor’s demise. Anyone familiar with the many quirks and foibles of university faculty members will recognize the personalities and colleagues who populate the Mountain West world.

Most of them (except for the guilty) reappear in The Rise of the Red Queen. Now Red is embroiled in the search process, as her friends, her detractors, and her rivals seek a permanent Journalism dean. At the same time, a Journalism student has gone missing, and Red feels a personal obligation to solve the mystery of Jamie’s disappearance. In this second novel, the author goes out of her way to explain the complexities of university rules and regulations regarding sexual harassment. Red is serving on a committee to define new policies and procedures, while at the same time she is pondering Jamie’s absence and wondering if there is a sexual component to the crime.

The reader, in this case, knows more than the detective, because Bourne has carefully crafted a dual narrative presentation. Each chapter begins with Red’s inquiries and actions—her interviews for the permanent dean’s position, her efforts to uncover Jamie’s patterns of behavior, her assertion of her Red Queen personality when others just wish she would keep silent. Each chapter ends with Jamie—captive in an old Nevada ranch house somewhere in the high desert, held by an anonymous man who doesn’t attack her physically but nonetheless holds her against her will. Where Red’s activities bounce along from encounter to encounter, Jamie’s are excruciatingly slow. This back-and-forth rhythm results in a dramatic tension that lasts throughout the novel and that builds to a surprising and satisfying outcome at the end.

A third novel in this trilogy awaits us in the future. If it is as effective as The Rise of the Red Queen, it will be a winner. So I thank my friend Bourne for exchanging her career as a Journalism professor for that of a mystery novelist. Good reads are always a delight!   – Ann Ronald

Also available by Bourne Morris: The Red Queen Run

 

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