by Kris Eton, contemporary (2009)
Liquid Silver Books, $5.50, ISBN 978-1-59578-544-2
Poor Aaron Brady. He is the only one left in his family who is trying to keep the Brady Turquoise Mine going, but the Nevadan mine has run dry. Aaron believes that if he can only locate the black opals he believes to be present somewhere in his land, he can save the mine from going completely under. The creditors are calling, they are taking back everything, but Aaron keeps going because he believes that the opals are out there... somewhere.
Nina Delgado is the last person Aaron wants to see drop by because she's with the IRS. The Brady bunch hadn't been paying their taxes properly for the last seven years, you see, and now Nina shows up to see whether there is anything left that the IRS can get their hands on. I'm not exactly fond of folks from the IRS myself, but I don't resent the poor darling here, stuck in the middle of the wilderness with her phone not working and having only a creepy fellow for company.
Your enjoyment of this story hinges greatly on, I suspect, how you view Aaron. There's a man driven by ambition and impossible dreams, and then there is a pitiable fellow clinging on to a fantasy as he lets his world crumble around him. This man lets everything - debts and unpaid bills - accumulate into a hopeless pile of mess that is threatening to submerge him under as he continues to dig and dig for those elusive opals. The poor dear is so driven, he has only his hand and feverish fantasies of Nina being naughty to keep him warm on those cold and lonely nights. He banks all his hopes on those opals. With those opals, he will finally pay off the creditors and rebuild the mine to its former glory. Without those opals...
Still, as pitiable as I find Aaron to be, this story could have been a poignant tale of a driven man nonetheless if the author has focused on the right things in her story. Alas, Ms Eton chooses to let the momentum of her story dissipate by introducing an ex-girlfriend subplot that does nothing to explore the characters' personality or further the story. There is no struggle against futility, no hitching on station wagons to a star in search of the promised land, and definitely no Smoky Mountain memories. Just a story that peters out the moment the characters initiate physical contact and the ex-girlfriend shows up to slow things down some more. All the build up about Aaron's apparently hopeless search for the opals ends up being wasted on a mundane kind of soap opera.
The Opal Hunter is a decent read, especially if you're into heroes who are completely driven to the point of desperation in a way that Ernest Hemingway and Joseph Conrad will approve, but I can't help feeling that this one would have been so much better if the author has focused the story on Aaron's struggles and his relationship with Nina.
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