Alex Kava
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Buy *Whitewash* by Alex Kava online

Alex Kava
432 pages
June 2007
rated 2 of 5 possible stars

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The job at EchoTechnology is a girl scientists' dream, even if it does shake Sabrina Galloway loose from a comfortable life in her native Chicago to plunk her down in steamy northeast Florida. But she is a scientist, after all, the kind of person who never notices the world around her while she focuses on her microscopes and her high-tech computer programs. And she is doing well, too – EchoTechnology's top-secret plant near Tallahassee is turning "organic waste" (chicken guts, actually) into black gold, Texas tea: crude oil. So why, all of a sudden, does Sabrina find herself on the run, her boss and a co-worker already dead and a professional "removal expert" hot on her heels?

Could Sabrina's predicament have something to do with the impending announcement that EchoTechnology will soon receive a $140-million contract to supply the military with all its hydrocarbon needs? Or maybe something to do with the strange relationship between the venture capitalist behind ET and the Democratic senator for Florida, John Quincy Allen? But, then again, perhaps there is a connection to a super-secret plot being run out of the office of Natalie Richards, top aide to an unnamed bigwig in DC, with the help of Colin Jernigan – a man oddly experienced in unsavory matters. Or maybe it’s connected in some way to a high-tech terrorist plot hatched by three young Islamic "students" posing as "cab drivers" in D.C., a plot driven in part by a shadowy person on the inside.

Sabrina is lucky, though: she has an filthy-rich 81-year-old next-door neighbor to help her escape the hitman, and an older brother just down I-10 in Pensacola (though he’s pretending to be "Eric Gallo" while he pulls some scam on Howard Johnson – his boss, not the hotel chain). It falls, of course, to this motley crew to save Sabrina's hide, expose the killer and the person or person who hired him, and save the President of the US and the world as we know it with only the aid of a Pepsi truck driver and a Chinese fortune cookie. Yeah: like that's gonna happen.

With her main character Maggie O'Dell (The Soul Catcher, A Perfect Evil) on break from her FBI profiler duties, Alex Kava began churning out standalone pieces such as Whitewash, her seventh novel overall. "Churning out" is perhaps a kind description of Whitewash, which suffers a broad spectrum of near-fatal ills. The book itself is told in alternating chapters from the viewpoint of the main character, a "scientist" – not a chemist, a molecular biologist, a low-temperature geochemist, or even a mycologist, merely a "scientist" – who toils at the high-tech plant that converts garbage into oil; and half a dozen secondary characters in Washington , D.C., and Florida. Whether the process of turning chicken guts (and beaks and blood and other assorted yuck) into oil is possible (it probably is) pales alongside Kava's idiotic assertion that "grade 2 garbage" – glass, bricks, wood, and metal – can also be turned into crude oil if they can just get the "flushing" process ironed out.

As the narrative flow rotates madly among the several characters, a mishmash of plot threads unfolds - a mishmash in which certain commonalities become clear: Kava insists on keeping everything secret until the penultimate chapter, necessitating enormous amounts of circumlocution and filler, most of the latter in the form of clichéd character descriptions and verbal smoke and mirrors to distract the reader. Ah, but from what must the reader be distracted? It's not magic, that much is clear: what the reader is not supposed to notice is that Kava plainly knows nothing about science – her description of the workings of EchoTechnology's (and why isn't it "EcoTechnology," anyway?) pilot plant is reminiscent of those repetitive references to "gravimetric fields," "jefferies tubes," "deflector dishes," and "chronometric distortions" Trekkies bemoan from lesser versions of the Star Trek canon. Unlike writers like Jeffery Deaver or T. Jefferson Parker, who excel at researching even minor points for their novels, Kava has simply splashed a bunch of "sciency-sounding" words across the page and let the plot chips fall where they may.

With no realistic basis for her protagonist's predicament, Kava has to fall back on a bagful of characters apparently picked up at a used stereotype auction and a gaggle of plot threads guaranteed to attract almost anyone's interest, though only briefly. The usual government corruption plot stands front and center. A terrorism plot – mercifully only about twenty pages overall – is completely superfluous (not to mention featuring yet another "scientist"); several threads based in Washington are jammed with hackneyed characters and unrealistic situations; and a long-lost brother thread reads like an episode of "Wise Guy" that never aired. In short, since Kava apparently didn't have anything to write from her missing research on science and scientists, she just threw everything but the kitchen sink into Whitewash to give it the bulk necessary to reach 400-plus pages. The result? Give this one a pass.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Rex Allen, 2007

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