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Book Review: ‘Gaviota’ Delves Deeper Into Coastal Tale

Don't judge this book by its cover; it's much more than a mystery or historical fiction

Gaviota is a quiet place. A place of gulls and wind and waves and orchards. The peace it exudes can make one feel outside of time, immune to the vagaries of history. If only that were true.

It is often forgotten that Gaviota was one of the few places on the mainland that was actually attacked during World War II. Author Erik O’Dowd starts with the basic facts of the attack, and then imagines the lives of the residents affected by these events.

The author has taken on no easy task. How to capture the mixed feelings of Santa Barbarans toward their neighbors of Asian descent? How to set aside the overwhelming desire for peace as embodied by the campaign to stay out of the war to mobilize for self-defense? These issues are tackled with great sensitivity, with both sides of the question equally well-represented.

Gaviota would be a great novel based on just those insights, but the author takes the stakes even higher when he overlays his fictional characters into this scene. Pike, a high-powered lawyer, wrestles with these issues, as well as his own personal demons, as he fights to clear his own and his father’s name.

As the mystery opens, Pike has been privately informed that he is on the short list for a Supreme Court nomination. Before he can properly celebrate, he receives an anonymous phone call warning that if he accepts the nomination, his father’s crime will come to light and the public humiliation will sink his nomination and his career.

Article Image
‘Gaviota’ by Erik O’Dowd

As Pike unravels the secrets of his father’s past, he also comes to grips with his own faults and failings. His drive to find the truth is overwhelming, but what price is he willing to pay? Will he sell his soul, committing crimes of his own, to achieve the ultimate prize? The stakes are raised when it appears someone in his own firm is behind the blackmail, as well as the firm’s oldest and most trusted client. What exactly was the crime, and who committed it?

The interweaving of two stories, Pike’s and his father’s, makes Gaviota more than a mystery and more than historical fiction. It is a story of two times, with the faults of both literally exposed. Most of all, it is the humanity of his characters that reach out and touch the reader, bringing to mind that we all have secrets, and like Pike, soldier on.

» Gaviota

» By Erik O’Dowd

» iUniverse Incorporated

» April 2007

» Paperback, 440 pages

» ISBN: 9780595410392

— Carol Ann Chybowski, who received a bachelor’s degree in linguistics from UCSB, is an aspiring author with short stories in the local anthologies A Community of Voices. The former Santa Barbara resident resides in Southern California.

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