Independent review of The Peacekeeper’s Photograph
By ML Doyle
The Peacekeeper’s Photograph is an excellent book — easily one of the best I’ve read this year. It’s more solid proof that independent writers are publishing some of the best, and most important books today.
The Peacekeeper’s Photograph shows up in Amazon’s Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, but it’s far more than a mystery. It’s also an honest, deep portrayal of a strong, smart woman in a horrible situation. Despite all evidence to the contrary — a successful military career, proven abilities as a photojournalist and editor, and the proven ability to perform coolly under enormous pressure.
Deployed to the peacekeeping (or peace-making) mission in Bosnia in the 1990s, Master Sergeant Lauren Harper returns to the trailer that serve as her quarters and work space, to find one of her soldiers, Specialist Virginia Delray, strangled to death. The military police investigators immediately place Master Sergeant Harper at the top of the suspect list. Not only did Harper have opportunity as the victim’s roommate, the Specialist was strangled with Sgt. Harper’s belt. To top it off, several people overheard Harper say she was going to “kill” Delray in frustration with the woman’s incompetence.
From this point, the plot involves a typical mystery story: the wrongly accused person must find the real killer, despite opposition from the official investigators and the doubts of her superior officers. As Harper pushes forward, she finds more and more disturbing facts implicating senior members of the U.N. peacekeeping force in what looks like a complicated human trafficking scheme.
The solution to the mystery lies in photographs the victim took, and in pictures taken of her by two British journalists. These include pictures still hidden in Delray’s camera, which becomes the Maguffin (to borrow Hitchcock’s term) of the story.
Characterization is where Doyle really shines. She skillfully brings not just Harper, but every major and minor character to life. They’re more than just believable, they’re captivating. I found myself caring very much about how Sergeant Steele would get along, and I found myself feeling more and more contempt for Sergeant Harper’s commanding officer, Colonel Neil McCallen, as I read on.
Doyle the author skillfully builds the complete portrait of the victim, Virginia Delray. Our first impression is that she’s a ditz, a lightweight who doesn’t take her job seriously enough. She seemed never to have provided a useable photograph, and did not write particularly well, either, even though she was posted to the public relations detail.
But through the story, the author gradually builds a more detailed picture of a complex, if flawed person. What’s fascinating, too, is the POV character, Sergeant Harper’s growing appreciation of Delray, and the way she deals with her feelings of guilt for having failed her soldier. Harper’s internal challenge is to deal with growing self-doubt as she learns whom she can trust.
And Harper’s final actions at the climax of the book made me admire her, and the author.
ML Doyle’s writing style is smooth and tight, yet rich with a clear depictions of settings, people and events. There’s not a spare adverb, nor a misstep in her descriptions. She’s a pro, and her own history in the military provides the essential accuracy in the details.
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The Peacekeeper’s Photograph will appeal to a lot of readers: mystery fans, readers who want stories about strong women, military stories and more.
But most important, The Peacekeeper’s Photograph is a book you should read if you like good books.
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