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Bartlett House by Patricia J. McLean and Duane Poncy

A Will Adelhardt - Lucy Hidalgo Mystery 

When a fire burns down the historic Bartlett House, the body of young activist, Emmy d’Angelo is found inside, dressed in bondage gear. Her older lover, professor Will Adelhardt, is under suspicion, but the manner in which Emmy is found is incomprehensible to Adelhardt, who is devastated by her loss. Now he must take a dark voyage through the past and his own tortured soul to find out what happened.

Will Adelhardt and his journalist friend, Lucy Hidalgo embark on a journey through Portland, Oregon’s history from sixties protest to the lumber barons and radical Louise Bryant.

A novel, no longer online

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Listed: Nov 20, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

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By Chris Poirier, editor

Dec 7, 2008: Bartlett House is a great read. At times, I found it riveting, and even when it’s not, the writing is still as smooth as silk.

The story begins with a deliberately set fire in an old, abandoned house, in one of the better parts of town. A body is found, and before long, we meet the prime—though by no means only—suspect: Will Adelhardt, the 20-years-her-senior boyfriend of the victim. He’s a history professor, twice divorced; a quiet, lonely man. And while the story doesn’t explicitly rule him out as the murderer, it seems highly unlikely that he’s the guy.

Friends with both Emmy (the victim), and Will, is Lucy Hidalgo, a freelance journalist who has an inside connection on the police force, and a raft of questions of her own. The circumstances of Emmy’s death . . . don’t sit well her, nor with Will—they seem very out-of-character for Emmy—and, even through her grief, she starts trying to piece together what happened.

The story has a lot of texture. It’s set against a backdrop of modern social justice issues in Portland, Oregon. Emmy was involved with street youth—which may have had something do with her death; Lucy is involved with workers’ rights movements and unions; Will’s a bit of an old-school Socialist, and that was the context in which he and Emmy first got together; Chris is a lawyer in the Public Defender’s office, and her husband is on the city council. Issues of poverty and class and money are woven skillfully into the fabric of the story, and we start to wonder just how much these issues were at the heart of the murder. There are a lot of people directly or peripherally involved in the events, and we meet them through the eyes of the main characters, in the hours and days after the murder. People start to wonder just how well they know anybody, as details come to light that raise more questions than answers.

If Bartlett House has any flaws, it’s in its basic structure. There’s a lot of backstory to be covered, and that necessarily slows things down. When Will finds out about Emmy’s death, and the scenes that follow during which he’s questioned by the police . . . I couldn’t look away. I totally lost myself in the fabric of the story—it was exceptionally vivid. But, because Emmy is now dead, most of what we learn about her is via flashbacks—recalled memories of Will or Lucy. They are well-handled, but, the flashbacks don’t quite have the life of the main story.

The larger problem occurs when backstory is covered directly, in narrative. There are long passages where personal backstory is intercut with description of places the character is travelling through, and, because neither the backstory nor the description is tied to anything urgent in the story—or anything a person not familiar with Portland would recognize—the writing just seems to get bogged down in details. It agitates, rather than moves. Fortunately, these passages are the exception, not the rule, and they’re easy enough to get past. In fact, there’s probably a good number of readers out who will straight-out enjoy them.

I think Bartlett House is one of the best web novels out there. If I found it in a bookstore, I’d pay money for it. It’s vivid, solid, mature writing, carefully crafted by two writers who know their stuff. Nothing about the story feels false. And even though the pacing isn’t quite to my liking, I’m totally hooked. I’ll be reading it regularly, and I think you should do yourself a favour and check it out.

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Most Helpful Member Reviews

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By amber simmons, member

Nov 24, 2008: It isn’t often that I get to leave a 5 star review, but what can I say? McLean and Poncy can write.

Bartlett House is ostensibly a murder mystery, but I have a feeling it is going to be much more than that. In these first eight chapters, we’ve met several characters—Will, the deceased’s lover, and Lucy, her friend. We are granted slight peeks into their lives, into the people they are—just enough to give the characters texture and depth, to turn them from characters into people.

At the time of this review, we’re not far enough into the story to have a real grasp on how the plot will unfold or where the twists and turns lie, but assuming the rest of the story proves as engaging and well written, we’re all in for a real treat. Unlike other online novels which tend to suffer from want of a good editor, McLean’s and Poncy’s writing shines. The imagery is clear, the language well-crafted, and the voice melodic and steady. This is literature, y’all, and literature that I can wholeheartedly recommend.

I’m thrilled that this is a completed novel, which increases the chances that we won’t be left hanging after a few mere months. This one is on my feed list. I have something to look forward to on Thursdays now.

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