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Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Cloverleaf Development

London's Roastbooks Ltd. was kind enough to send me three of their books last month for review consideration. At the time, I knew nothing about the company or its books but I was intrigued by the concept of a novella collection called "Great Little Reads." According to the company's Faye Dayan, "These are little books for the modern lifestyle, designed to be read in one or two sittings."

That is exactly what I needed this weekend, something relatively short but so well-written that I could lose myself in it for an hour or two at a time, and I was lucky enough to throw The Cloverleaf Development into my luggage at the last second Friday afternoon before I left for a quick out-of-town trip.

The Cloverleaf Development, written by Keith Scales, is a tongue-in-cheek novella of 130 pages that kept me thoroughly entertained and intrigued for the two or so hours of reading time it requires. Mr. Scales has created a surrealistic little world in which an isolated rural area is about to have its world rocked by a new housing development, complete with major changes to the roads in the area, being built just a short distance away.

The residents of Overlook City are proud of their little community and very much against anything that might change the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed. There are few secrets in Overlook (at least that's what the locals like to believe) and everyone seems to know most everything about everyone else. But when the long abandoned Malarky Mansion is demolished to make room for the new development and human bone fragments, including most of a skull, are found, those same locals are in for a shock. Everything they thought they knew about the old mansion and its former residents just might turn out to be wrong.

Following the supremely self-important Sheriff Wilmot around as he constantly revises his theory on what happened in Malarky Mansion some two decades earlier is half the fun. Wilmot is the kind of sheriff who decides what must have happened and then works furiously to find only the facts he needs to prove his case. That no one in town agrees with any of his theories hardly slows him down as he stumbles from one colorful town character to another in his quest to prove himself correct.

The rest of the fun comes from being fooled along with everyone else in town as to what really happened in the mansion and how the bones got there. Good novellas and short stories, in my estimation, are probably more difficult to write than novels since the author has so few pages to create multiple characters and to flesh out a plot. This is one of the good ones. Keith Scales has packed more into his 130 pages than many a novelist manages with a 300-page canvas. It is filled with quirky characters, humor and observations about small town life, and it is definitely a "great little read."

Readers will note, also, that the back cover of each of the Roast Books novellas includes a list of the book's "ingredients." In the case of The Cloverleaf Development, those indgredients are: Circumstantial Evidence, Cattledrive Eatery and Saloon Banter, Discovery of Body Parts, Out of Town Developers." Just how perfect that little recipe is will become obvious to anyone who reads The Cloverleaf Development.

Rated at: 4.0

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