Soma County by Alan Annand – Book Review
by Val Tobin
There's a wine tasting going on at a Sonoma vineyard, and Axel Crowe's client's best friend has had one glass too many. Found dead on the bathroom floor, the woman obviously didn't just swish and spit.
The police blame the wine and confiscate all bottles, which threatens the vintner's reputation and livelihood.
Enter Crowe, who uses astrology to divine that the woman's glass of wine was poisoned.
The trail of astrological signs and evidence leads him to a power-hungry developer and missing immigrant workers who may be victims of the black market in body parts.
Lots of Action and Twists in the Tale
Much like Annand's other novels, there's plenty to keep the reader guessing here. Crowe's investigation begins in California, but diverts to India, where he probes into suspicious activity at an ashram.
Axel Crowe's investigative technique fascinates, particularly if you have an interest in astrology in general, and Vedic Astrology in particular. As for the characters, they're well rounded, particularly Crowe, who isn't your stereotypical alcohol-addicted, surly PI.
The story is well-written and easy to read. It flows well, and I looked forward to returning to it again whenever I had to put it down.
After I finished reading it, I contacted the author, and he agreed to do an interview with me about Soma County and what's next for Axel Crowe.
The Evolution of Soma County
Q. How did the idea for the story evolve?
A. During one of my many astrology classes with Hart deFouw, he talked about someone he'd met in India, a diminutive man with a huge ego who saw himself much bigger than anyone else around him. The fellow had built an oversized house, stocked it with oversized furniture, and even had many oversized personal articles, eg, dining utensils, writing instruments, hairbrushes and combs, etc, fabricated for his use.
This gave me the idea for the character of Megawati, an Indian megalomaniac who'd been forced by his father into a career he didn't really belong in, and whose frustration thereafter bred compensating behaviors of an unsavory nature. Thus he became a compelling villain for a missing persons mystery connected to the international black market in body parts. Enter Axel Crowe, astrologer extraordinaire.
Setting and Celibacy
Q. What made you decide to set the story in California?
A. I've taken most of my astrology and palmistry courses in the Bay Area, so the locale carries strong associations for my tribe of Vedic astrologers and Eastern-religion devotees. San Francisco, Berkeley and the Napa Valley are all cultural icons of western sensibility. And yet it's not immune to significant criminal activity. That juxtaposition of East/West contrasts provoked my plot, while the Bay Area in general offers a creative vortex of social mores, ethnic diversity and technology.
Q. Why make Crowe celibate?
A. They say, write about what you don't know. But I didn't make him, that's just the way he is. Throughout this trilogy, I expected Crowe to enjoy an intimacy with someone for whom he felt a bond. But although there were close calls, he always stepped back. I didn't have to think about it too much to realize that his character was formed out of respect for my teacher, and for his guru, upon whom Crowe was modeled. As counselors in the most sober sense, they had to hold themselves aloof from human entanglements. The road less traveled, and all that dharma.
Next Up for Crowe and Annand
Q. Are you working on another Crowe novel? Care to share some details?
A. I wrote the New Age Noir trilogy for a certain kind of reader — astrologers who like mysteries, and mystery lovers sympathetic to New Age themes. I thought I was finished with it, but lately I've been collecting ideas for another Axel Crowe mystery. This one involves the attempted assassination of a British rock star and is set largely in Europe. I'll take any excuse to travel for research.
Q. If no, what is your current project?
A. I'm currently writing another police procedural that pits Montreal detective Sophie Gillette against home-grown terrorists. Whereas Al-Quebeca involved the near-destruction of Quebec's power grid in mid-winter, The Big Smoke involves a hijacked trainload of dangerous commodities barreling down on Toronto one steamy July night. If it's any consolation, Gillette enjoys sex.
Image: Cover of Soma County Courtesy of Alan Annand