California Literary Review

The Trade – By Shirley Palmer

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April 24th, 2007 at 6:00 am

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The Trade
By Shirley Palmer
MIRA Books 302 pp.
CLR Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Matt Lowell is a character straight out of central casting for the Lifetime Network. He’s a down to earth, single guy living on the beach in Malibu. He restores old warehouses (in touch with his creative side) into beautiful lofts in rundown parts of Los Angeles. But he has one big problem – the big “C.” No no, not that big “C”, the other one – Commitment.

He’s soon to encounter many additional problems in Shirley Palmer’s novel The Trade. As fire rages through Malibu, Matt heads into the thick of it to rescue his dog and horses (isn’t he something else!), and finds a baby in the surf that dies in his arms on the way to his house. Later the police find a woman lying dead on the side of a road who they suspect is the mother of the child that Matt found. Matt just can’t leave it to the police to figure things out and tries to unravel the mystery himself. Inevitably he drags others into his investigation including a childhood friend who’s now a police officer and of course his ex-girlfriend who left him because of his problem with the big “C.” There are very nasty, politically connected bad guys who are responsible for the deaths and don’t like Matt sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. Matt’s obsession threatens his own life as well as all of those connected to him.

What happened to cause these deaths is a very ugly social phenomenon that once seemed possible only in third world countries. I don’t want to give away too much of this part of the story, but this issue is just now being recognized as a problem in the United States. Shirley Palmer is ahead of other novelists in placing this activity in 21st century Los Angeles.
The novel is written in staccato prose that makes it difficult for the reader to get into any kind of rhythm. Overall The Trade is the literary equivalent of a weak television movie: one dimensional characters, unimaginative dialogue, but a story so outlandish that despite its obvious shortcomings, one can’t help but see it through to the end.

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