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    Review of MURDER IN EXILE by Vincent H. O'Neil

    Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Minotaur, April 2006

    Former business owner Frank Cole is hardly working in Exile, Florida, doing background work for insurance companies and earning just enough that he doesn't have to pay back his bankruptcy creditors. When a young college student is killed in a hit-and-run three weeks after buying insurance, Frank is assigned the job of doing background checking.

    It seems a perfectly ordinary case, especially when Frank learns that the young man had recently gotten engaged--to a woman expecting his child. But an obvious warning--an unfired bullet left in Frank's locked home--makes him wonder whether there isn't more going on. Could it be that the student was the wrong victim. Ignorning the warning, Frank continues to investigate. What he finds is a possibility of corporate involvement--the type that makes his own business bankruptcy look positively clean in comparison.

    Author Vincent H. O'Neil draws an intriguing picture of Exile, Florida and the surrounding area where southern tradition and small-town values blend uneasily with the realities of modern America. With his troubled background, Frank should come across as sympathetic and interesting.

    MURDER IN EXILE is O'Neil's first book and it shows. He veers into overly-literary writing from time to time, pulling the reader away from the story and reducing the tension. Although the story is told from a first person perspective ('I' rather than 'he'), I never found myself really sharing any sense of danger or excitement with protagonist Frank Cole. Like watching someone else put together a jigsaw puzzle, there was certainly an element of interest, but not a high level of involvement.

    I'll definitely watch for more of O'Neil's books--there were certainly strong moments in this story and he seems to be an author with plenty of potential. For me, MURDER IN EXILE just lacks the emotional pull I was hoping for in the mystery.

    Two Stars

    Reviewed 9/06/06

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