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June 20, 2006 > Welcome to the Dunes

Welcome to the Dunes

A book review

by Robert A. Garfinkle

Jack Hasling's second novel is not only a "who-done-it," but also a clever who-is-the-victim mystery. The Cupertino author and Foothill College professor emeritus has put together a solid story from what seemed like a corny idea of a murder at a writer's conference on the Monterey coast. Murder at a writer's conference? I thought he had to be kidding when I first heard about this book, but Hasling hooked me early and kept me reading until the last sentence. The book was intended to be a light-hearted and good-natured spoof of writer's conferences, but out of this came a well-developed mystery.

The author did a great job weaving into his story historical references of the times (1984-1987), like a demonstration of the then new Macintosh computer (I remember when we had a demonstration of this new graphical-based computer at my place of employment in 1984. The engineers in the room were stunned by what you could do on the little blue screen compared to the clunky, slow, DOS-based IBM personal computers).

The fictional conference occurs in 1984 at resort called the Dunes Retreat Center on the beach in the Monterey area. You are introduced to the players as they arrive for the conference. You have to pay close attention to how everyone arrives, or how you think they arrive. Conference arrivals are an integral part of the whole mystery. The intended target of the killer is wealthy San Francisco publisher Cornelia Ferndale whose private physician accompanies her to the conference. She is suspected of being a major supporter of the Contras in the civil war in Nicaragua. You are led to believe that she has shady connections with the CIA and President Ronald Regan's covert operations to supply the Contras with weapons.

An anti-war protest, led by a man named Jason Oberon, takes place at the conference center gates; one of the conference attendees participates. The attendee, along with Oberon, becomes a prime suspect in the murder of the sickly Mrs. Ferndale who appears to have been killed in her room, although no body is found. A few pages later, Oberon is killed in a very murky manner. Are the killings related and who did them? To find out, you'll just have to read "Welcome to the Dunes."

Hasling's page-turner kept me guessing to the very end. If you're a fan of mystery books, this is a good read that I highly recommend. Welcome to the Dunes, by Jack Hasling, Iceni Books; 187 pages; $15.95.

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