Bitter Waters, by Wen Spencer

>> Thursday, July 13, 2006

Last year I reread the first book in Wen Spencer's Ukiah Oregon series, Alien Taste, and read the second, Tainted Trail, for the first time. Given how I'd needed to go back and reread book 1 in order to understand book 2 (I'd first tried to start directly with Tainted Trail but gave up within 20 pages), I didn't want to let too much time pass before I read the rest of the series. I did let more time pass than I would have wished, but I thought I'd give it a try anyway.

Book # 3 is Bitter Waters (excerpt), and it starts right after Tainted Trail closes.

Ukiah Oregon has never had a normal life. As a child, he was found running with a pack of wolves. Captured, he was adopted by a lesbian couple and civilized. He works now as a private investigator and expert tracker in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is gifted with photographic memory, keen senses, and the odd ability to detect things down to a cellular level.

Ukiah and his senior partner, Max Bennett, are just returning to Pittsburgh after the events of Tainted Trail. Before they even land, they have a new tracking job -- to find a boy missing from his backyard. Driving straight from the airport, Ukiah and Max start another adventure, one that will involve kidnapped children, a drug-dealing biker gang, a UFO cult, a hostile federal agent, the Pack, Max's new love Samuel Anne Killington, Ukiah's FBI lover Indigo Zheng, his two adoptive mothers, and his infant son, Kittanning.
Bitter Waters was an interesting read, but I'm afraid it lacked that certain something that made the first two books so wonderful. A B-.

As I mention above, Bitter Waters starts right after the events narrated in book # 2, but it goes in a different direction. Whereas the first two books dealt with Ukiah discovering the earthshattering truth about his origins and dealing with it, BW offers no more major revelations. What we've got here is Ukiah investigating a case that's completely unrelated to what was going on before. Oh, there are Ontongard elements to it, but this isn't Ukiah vs. the Ontongard for world domination any more.

Obviously, since the plot goes into new territory, it's easy to get into this one even if you don't remember 100% of what happened in the first books. Not that this is a good place to start in the series, because you really need to know a bit about Ukiah's background to understand, but even if it's been a while since you read Tainted Trail, you'll be fine. Spencer does quite a good job in bringing the reader up to date. Maybe a bit too much exposition at first, but soon the story was soon progressing fine, and I felt all caught up.

I'm not going to go into the details of the plot, because it's an interesting and intrincate one and half the fun is trying to guess where things are going. I'll just say there are child abductions and religious cults and Ontongard weapons all mixed up, and the way Spencer links them together is pretty cool. It was interesting, though I felt it was a bit too too full of twisted sexuality, which made some sections pretty upsetting and distasteful to read.

However, this wasn't the main reason why I didn't care for BW as much as I did for the first books. I think that was probably because this wasn't so much about character and about exploring Ukiah's history and him having to deal with it. BW was more plot driven, and however interesting the plot was, I wanted more character development.

My main problem was that there were some pretty big things going on, but it felt to me as if Ukiah wasn't reacting enough to them... as if he was an action figure. I wanted to know how he felt about stuff, to see his struggle to function through these traumatic events, but no, he didn't seem to be all that much affected by anything.

Same thing about his relationship with Max... in the first books I felt the bond between them, but here, not so much. They have a fascinating relationship: not quite father-and-son, not quite brothers, not quite friends, but a mix of all of those, and I wanted more of that.

And Indigo? Where did the romance go? There's something there, but again, I wanted more, because their relationship is so unique!

Oh, well, I hope the next book, Dog Warrior, is more like the first two.


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