Work to Do by Bob Zeanah

Shelley Carpenter
Candle-Ends: Reviews


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Work to Do by Bob Zeanah

One of the oldest plots in the history of storytelling is the journey: someone leaves town or a stranger comes to town. The journey can be a physical journey or an internal one. The best stories contain both. Bob Zeanah’s mystery novel Work to Do (Moonshine Books, 2014) does just this. The novel begins in medias res setting up the chaos with the discovery of a body and the crux of the mystery: who done it?

Work to Do has elements of three sub-genres within the general mystery context: soft-boiled, police procedural, and cozy. It can be called a soft-boiled mystery because the murder and other violence is not graphic and happens mainly offstage, revealed through character witnesses. Some of the characters are police officers lending police language and procedural rules to the storyline and thus, Zeanah’s novel could be described in part as a police procedural mystery. Likewise, the characters in the small southern town of Romulus are all cozy types because they are likeable, interesting, curious, and sometimes quirky characters. In this way, Work to Do has elements of a cozy mystery, as well.

Soon into the novel two protagonists emerge—the mysterious Kelci who quickly becomes the underdog character, and the good-natured, tough sheriff nicknamed Sugar Bear who provides the internal structure of the novel. The remaining characters are a diverse population: the three owners of Neat Artsy Stuff—nature-loving Ramsey; Shelley, his twin; and Joe, Shelley’s shifty husband; Sistah Laney, the apple grower; the charming Reverend Al Manning; Bertram Parker “a new breed of lawyer that operated from a car, cell phone, and post office box”; several police officers with their own agendas and more. And of course, the victim, Burl Campbell—“killed with a hole in his head that matched the hole in his soul”—whom the reader meets postmortem and later in flashback.

Each character is unique and Zeanah gives them distinct voices one could pick out in a crowd, such as the Reverend Manning who frequently quotes Bible scripture in conversation and Sistah Laney who speaks her mind freely: “You here to know what I know about Burl Campbell.”

Sistah Laney and the other characters, some of whom are antagonists and suspects, each want something for themselves and distract the reader by creating red herrings that lead the reader down other storylines—a family history, a budding romance, theft, domestic abuse, and other police matters that may or may not relate to Burl Campbell’s murder. And this generally is how mysteries differ from most fiction. The reader must remain active, alert and watchful. As Sheriff Sugar Bear sifts through clues, puzzles, secrets and questions in Work to Do, the reader looks over Sugar Bear’s big broad shoulders, working the case with him invisibly like a silent partner.

It is also interesting that Bob chose to write Work to Do in a third-person point of view with an omniscient narrator. It is an effective choice as it gives the reader more access to inner thoughts and character development (related through backstory and flashback mechanisms) that also serve in establishing motives and, if the reader is paying close attention, the method and opportunity for murder, as well.

Zeanah’s writing is also noteworthy. He takes his time describing location, movement, and introducing characters:

A lanky deputy barely filling out his uniform stepped out of the patrol car. He wore youthfulness on his face that let the world know he was eager, and would say or do something immature and he would be forgiven because he showed pride in what he was doing.

This is where Zeanah excels. His prose is wondrous in its clarity and richness in detail.

Along with the initial chaos and red herrings, a mystery needs tension-building devices to drive the main plot. Besides murder, there is blackmail, theft, violence, sex, secrets, and lies that climax with the intersection of two plot lines.

Work to Do is the first in a series of Sugar Bear mysteries.

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Bob Zeanah has spent his adult life writing fiction as a hobby. After retiring from a career in education, he turned to grant writing and also teaches classes in creative writing, business writing, and editing. Work to Do is his first published novel. Bob lives on the Gulf Coast of Alabama in a place well known for churning out quality writing.

pencilShelley Carpenter is TC’s Reviews Editor. Email: harpspeed[at]toasted-cheese.com

One Night in Bridgeport by Mark Paxson

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Bob Zeanah


One Night in Bridgeport (King Midget Press, 2012) written by Mark Paxson explores the reactions of people to an alleged incident. Jack McGee is charged with rape after a one-night stand that he regretted the next morning.

Jack is a big-city lawyer sent to the quaint town of Bridgeport to make a contract offer on farmland. Bridgeport is full of small-town prejudices against lawyers and big cities. Lea Rogers is one of their own, a beautiful young woman, just home from college to help her mother save the farm that has been in the family for generations.

Lea files rape charges after persuasion by an assistant district attorney wanting to make a name for himself and to ingratiate himself to Lea, his secret high school crush. However, she is not a victim of anything other than embarrassment. In fact, she instigated as much of the sexual relations as Jack did. Abandoned by the people who should have supported him the most, Jack McGee is forced to face his crisis alone along with the court-appointed young attorney who must keep her opinions detached.

In addition to presenting an engaging story, One Night in Bridgeport is as much about a study of people and their inclination to prejudgment or capacity to withhold judgment until facts are known. Paxson explores his characters and the psychology involved affecting each character. He details what the responses reveal about each character. Some convict Jack of rape in their minds without the facts; some offer solace and a place of refuge. Friends and colleagues abandon him and strangers take stances, some withhold judgment and some find ways to support him quietly. Some strangers want to become vigilantes. The judge sitting the case plans to retire as soon as he can get the rape trial over. A couple of facts keep nagging him and he is torn between supporting the local girl and slipping quietly into retirement or pursuing what nags him.

Paxson brings his legal expertise into the writing of the book. Some may feel compelled to compare Paxson to John Grisham. However, Paxson goes much deeper into the analysis of human behavior. He shows characters at a greater depth of understanding.

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Mark Paxson is a graduate of California State University in Sacramento and holds a law degree from McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific. He has practiced law for the past twenty years. His other published works include Marfa Lights and Other Stories (CreateSpace, 2012) and Shady Acres and Other Stories (CreateSpace, 2012). His stories “Gramps’s Record Player” and “The Ice Cream Man” were Toasted Cheese Best of the Boards selections and his article “Back to School: Reflections on Taking a Continuing-Ed Writing Class” appeared at Absolute Blank in 2011.

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Dr. Bob Zeanah is a freelance writer working mainly writing grants for small non-profit agencies. Bob teaches Creative Writing and his classes are in demand with students taking classes three or four times. In addition, he teaches classes in business writing, editing, and grant writing. He has two unpublished books, Then We Have Work to Do and A Magnet for Crazy. The latter he co-wrote with Suzan Christensen. Email: bobzeanah[at]gulftel.com