Triple Helix
Keith Spratley
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Buy *Triple Helix* online Triple Helix: A Provincial Eye Novel
Keith Spratley
Writers Club Press
300 pages
July 2002
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

In the dedication to Triple Helix, author Keith Spratley gives readers a rather broad hint as to what he's after in this prequel to Provincial Eye:

"This book is also dedicated to the memory of Douglas Adams.  So long, and thanks for all the inspiration!"
It always pays to read the dedication, the preface, the acknowledgements -- it can be a big help in getting you in the proper mindset for the fiction that follows.

That holds true for this second book in Spratley's "Provincial Eye" sci-fi/mystery/thriller arc, starring once more ex-SAS officer turned private detective Mike Logan, a man with a tragic past whose good luck has held to the extent that a rich uncle left him everything, including a lovely little estate in Enmore.  It's a jump back in time for the handsome, sensitive but family-less Briton, back to his first case as a PI (er, the only PI) in the provincial burg of Bridgwater. Readers -- and Mike Logan -- are introduced to Mike's part-time man-on-the-street Adrian Upton, a few more blanks in Mike's life of misfortune are filled, and another smart and lovely woman from Mike's university days -- here, the African beauty and software brainiac Sophie M'Benga -- makes a return appearance to his world, as does his ex-military mate Steve Mason. So what about the Adams bit, readers may wonder.

It's apparent but not obvious if you're looking for the subtle similarities. While Triple Helix might start out like a standard series mystery, that classification doesn't hold true for long. A series of disappearances of genetically similar young men, including a local but internationally prominent heavy-metal bass player and a set of identical twins of Germanic heritage, turns out to be something far more sinister -- and far more bizarre -- than a mere serial killer on the loose or government conspiracy. It's aliens -- and time travel, and cross-dimensional genetic manipulation -- and it's the fate of the Earth at stake.

Shades of Hitch Hiker's Guide and Dirk Gently? Oh, yeah, but not lifted straight out by any means. Keith Spratley has simply hit his stride as far as the tone he's after. Triple Helix is gentle blend of atypical gumshoe on the case and absurdly situational sci-fi.

Mike Logan is no Arthur Dent, nor thinly veiled Dirk Gently. He's his own man, a more sensitive but equally capable sort of 007 not directly in Her Majesty's service. He gets the girl -- temporarily, at least -- and he saves the world (or, as in Provincial Eye, at least the kingdom). But some of his mates, like the Ford Prefect-y Brian Fox, and a lot of the weird situation vis a vis the aliens and time travel and such, will be familiar to Adams' legions of fans. Still, the answer to the meaning of life isn't just "42" within these pages

In all, this book succeeds better than its predecessor in veering off the serious technothriller straight and narrow. Triple Helix is a wry, at times goofy (oh, those adorable identical/fraternal Teller twins), headlong enjoyable read. There are hints and intimations of new mysteries needing just such a man as Mike Logan to solve them down the road. Readers can hop on board the "Provinicial Eye" train and look forward to a long line of cars.

© 2002 by Sharon Schulz-Elsing for Curled Up With a Good Book

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