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Review: ETA - Estimated Time of Arrest

ETA: Estimated Time of Arrest, by Delphine Pontvieux, Miss Nyet Publishing, 2009, 334 Pages. Available at Miss Nyet Publishing and Amazon.

Review by Dan Burns

In addition to being an avid reader, I am a lover of books, and when I first held the hardcover edition of ETA: Estimated Time of Arrest in my hands, I felt I was in for a special treat. The dust jacket immediately piqued my interest with a professional design, color scheme, and finish that truly sets it apart on the bookshelf. Underneath the dust jacket (and you must look) is the beautifully appointed front board, with the title, author name and elaborate graphics emblazoned in gold. Imprinting of the front board is an often-overlooked detail in the publishing industry today, as publishers continue to trim their expenses, and they tend to limit the printing of the hard cover simply to the spine. I figure they assume that most readers won’t look under the dust jacket, and that is unfortunate. I still think the details matter, and the quality of this book is better as a result of the details the author, Ms. Pontvieux, insisted upon.

The story of ETA opens in Mexico City with the introduction of Rafael Vargas, a young man with a unique eye condition, heterochromia iridium, which has graced him with a pair of eyes where one iris is a different color that the other. At first, I took this particular medical condition as just a defining character trait for Rafael, which can be seen in the dark and mysterious eyes looking out from the dust jacket of the book. However, after reading the story, I realized that the different eyes held much broader metaphoric meanings for me, including: the merging of the past and the present, the marriage of new and old, what is known and what is left to interpretation, the struggle of right vs. wrong, and the details we share with others and those that are better kept secret. I was intrigued and surprised that a single pair of eyes could convey so much meaning in a story.

I was intrigued and surprised that a single pair of eyes could convey so much meaning in a story.

From the very beginning of the novel, we become aware that Rafael is not who he seems, and there is an immediate sense of mystery and of trouble lurking. Shortly thereafter, he meets a beautiful young woman, Faustine La Roche, at an eco-activist community just north of Spain in the Vallée d’Aspe region of southern France, and we get a glimpse of the possibility of a simpler life, for both of them. Rafael and Faustine share their passion for rock climbing, and over time, their passion turns more personal. As their relationship begins to flourish, a man from Rafael’s past calls on him to return a favor and to pay off a debt, and Rafael’s life, and the lives of everyone close to him, past and present, are impacted and changed forever.

ETA is a story about passions, beliefs, and the desire to do what’s right, but “what’s right” is a personal interpretation and it’s the interpretation by each of the characters in the story that creates the multiple conflicts that help to weave the web of wills and deception.  ETA is the story of two young lovers from two different worlds and the challenges they must overcome if they want to be together. It is also the story of a relationship between two close friends, and it is a relationship to which most everyone can relate. Rafael and his childhood friend, Patxi, were inseparable as young boys. They bonded at a young age and grew into adulthood with the same interests and passions and beliefs. But then fate intervened, circumstances separated them, and when they found each other again some years later, things were different.  The challenge for each of them is to remain friends while remaining true to their beliefs and convictions, and that is never easy.

The writing exhibited in ETA, simply put, is inspired.

The writing exhibited in ETA, simply put, is inspired. Writers are often told to “write what you know,” and Ms. Pontvieux has done just that. The lush descriptions of the Basque region of northern Spain and the majestic and elaborate details used to create a visual for the reader of the mountains and valleys of southern France are details and descriptions of as seasoned traveller.  Additionally, the mountain climbing expeditions of her main characters, while critical to the story, were made more relevant through the use of sufficient technical detail of the sport. In this case, more detail is good, as it led to the increased credibility of the characters and the story. As a storyteller, Ms. Pontvieux has shared with us not only what she knows, but also her skill and craft at weaving a interesting plot that never loses its focus.

For me, as a reader, story is more about the characters than the plot, and I was impressed with Ms. Pontvieux’s deliberate attention to character development. Juggling the storylines of more than twenty characters in a novel is a challenge, but ensuring that each of those characters is unique and interesting is a true test of a writer’s ability. Her primary characters certainly stand out as noteworthy and impressionable people, but even the characters with the smallest roles remained memorable for me long after I put the book down.

If you’re able to set aside the requisite hours to invest in a novel, any novel, I think it is reasonable to expect that that author will provide you a complete story—one with an intriguing premise with interesting characters that struggle with conflict and work through that conflict to a reasonable and satisfying resolution. ETA accomplishes that objective. But a novel can also be so much more, and as readers, we always want more. We read novels and stories to get away from our daily routine, to learn something new, and to travel to places that are dear to us or that we may only dream about. We read to experience what the author has experienced, what the author knows, and the unique perspective that the author brings to the story. ETA has delivered on all counts.

ETA: Estimated Time of Arrest is a tightly wound story of international intrigue and suspense, splashed across a canvas of European landscapes, environmental and political causes, and the art of mountain climbing. A year ago, I had the fortunate opportunity to visit Spain, and while reading this book, I was taken back there for a short but memorable time. I was also transported further north to regions not previously explored, and it was a welcome excursion. From the back dust jacket flap, I learned that Ms. Pontvieux is also an accomplished scuba diver. Maybe her next novel will take us to the sea, and to the places I long to explore or revisit once again.

Dan Burns is the author of The First Sixty Seconds (Sourcebooks).

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