“Orchid Beach” by Stuart Woods

Woods, Stuart. Orchid Beach (1998)
HarperCollins, 325 pages, $25.00 hardcover 
ISBN 0-06-019181-3

Finally, a new book by Stuart Woods that doesn’t feature philandering superhero Stone Barrington. In fact, the protagonist of Woods’s latest novel is a woman, 37-year-old Holly Barker. After 20 years in the army, Barker retires when a male superior whom she and another woman accused of sexual harassment is acquitted by a military court. Her father’s former army buddy, Chet Marley, now chief of police in Orchid Beach, Florida, immediately hires Holly to come work for him as assistant chief. Marley hints that he thinks someone on his force is disloyal but assures Holly he’ll have more information by the time she’s ready to start work. 

On the morning when Holly first reports to work at the Orchid Beach police department, she learns that Chief Marley was shot the previous night and is not expected to recover. Suddenly Holly becomes acting chief, and she has no idea who is trustworthy and who isn’t. 

I suspect that Stuart Woods wrote this book at least partly in response to criticism that he can’t create a significant female character. Orchid Beach, like most of Woods’s novels, relies more on plot than on character to pull it along. Holly Barker proves herself to be independent, competent and sensible, even though she needs the help of several men to solve the mystery. It will be interesting to see if Woods continues this character and, if he does, how he develops her as a female working in a predominantly male profession.

© 1999 by Mary Daniels Brown

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