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by Joan Albarella
Rising Tide Press, 2000
Review by Su Terry on Sep 15th 2002

Called to Kill

Call to Kill by Joan Albarella is the second in this series about a lesbian Anglican priest, former Vietnam vet, and of course, amateur solver of mysteries. This second adventure pits the heroine against the owner of a sleazy gentlemen’s club in Canada where prostitution and drugs are a lethal combination.

Call to Kill is set on the small college town of Sheridan in upstate New York and in a small town just across the Canadian border. Nikki Barnes is still serving as the chaplain for St. David University, however, this case has little if anything to do with her collegiate connections. This case is personal and deeply rooted in her past. While Nikki was serving in Vietnam, she almost murdered Trang, a young Vietnamese prostitute in an act of revenge for the death of her lover. In that pivotal life-changing event, Nikki decides to adopt Trang as her “mama-san” and eventually assisted Trang and her infant daughter to flee the country. While Nikki is ending her military career in pursuit of becoming a priest, Trang meets and marries Douglas Fairburn, a wealth American businessman. As Tracy Fairburn, Trang raises her two beautiful daughters and runs a successful import-export business, but Trang’s life is now filled with sorrow. Celine, Trang’s elder daughter has been seduced into a life of drugs, topless dancing, and prostitution by Joe Buglio, a sexy but disreputable mobster. Trang turns to her old friend Nikki for help. Nikki goes to Buglio’s club and secretly arranges a meeting with Celine. Celine agrees to leave “the Life” but not to return home to her mother. When Nikki arrives at Celine’s boardinghouse to help her escape, she finds Celine dead from a drug overdose. Nikki believes her death is suspicious, and decides to investigate. In her attempt to prove Buglio responsible and to bring him to justice, Nikki also discovers that all is not what it seems with Trang, her business contacts, and the Fairburn household. Dare Nikki dig deeper into the case and risk discovering unpleasant things about the people in her life?

Like the first book in this series (Agenda for Murder), Call to Kill is about more than just getting “the bad guys.” It grapples with unique and difficult issues and their impact on the inner workings of human psychology. In Call to Kill, Albarella deals with the first hand experience of war and its impact. The author explores the psyche of the hard-edged adult Trang who as a young Vietnamese girl was raped and forced by the rejection of her village, to become a street prostitute and eventually bear a soldier’s child. Trang’s Afro-Asian child, Celine, suffers the rejection of her peers for her mixed racial identity. Her obsession for finding her soldier father leads to the web of lies and deceit spun by Buglio and to ultimately to her death. The experience of Nikki as an American soldier in Vietnam is counterbalanced by the experience of Mary “Magpie” York, Nikki’s lover’s friend, as a British photographer documenting the Falkland Crisis. The stories of their personal tragedies overshadow the mystery of who murdered a young prostitute. On a lighter note, I am happy to see the return of the character of Barrett Fairburn, Trang’s American daughter, who lusts after Nikki. She offers humorous retorts to Nikki’s too often cynical comments.

Joan Albarella is an Associate Professor at the University of Buffalo Educational                         Opportunity Center. She is the author of four books of poetry entitled: Mirror Me (1973); Poems for The Asking (1975); Spirit and Joy; and the bilingual Mujeres, Flores, Fantasia. There are two books in  “Nikki Barnes Mystery Series" Agenda for Murder (1999) and Call to Kill (2000). “She was recognized by J. Mark Press in the Reader Vote Award for Best Poem in Notable American Poets; by the International Biographical Centre of England as International Woman of the Year in 1992 and received the Twentieth Century Award of Achievement in 1993. She also won the Oxner-Lytle Distinguished Service award in 1999 and is listed in over twenty-two American and British Who's Who collections. Joan is a member of Poets and Writers; Sisters In Crime; and the Italian American Writers Association”

Call to Kill by Joan Albarella is more than a complex mystery about murder and underworld doings. This is can be more than another light cozy murder. It challenges the reader to think about long-term impact caused by the experience of war. I highly recommend this book.

 

 

© 2002 Su Terry

Su Terry: Education: B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious Studies/Pastoral Counseling from Fairfield University, a M.Div. in Professional Ministry from New Brunswick Theological Seminary, a Certificate in Spirituality/Spiritual Direction from Sacred Heart University. She is a Licensed Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in Library Science at Dowling College, Long Island, NY. Interests in Mental Health: She is interested in the interplay between psychology, biology, and mysticism. Her current area of research is in the impact of hormonal fluctuation in female Christian mystics.