“Book Review: Swept Away”
Reviewed by Frank Pizzoli
Pop culture & crime join forces in this wildly unexpected adventure
America’s preoccupation with fame, fortune, and celebrity is like no other. And Arnold Johnston’s characters in his latest crime novel Swept Away are no exception.
The action opens with writer Dennis McCutcheon facing the loss of his job at a small university in Pennsylvania. Like that’s not enough to deal with, he’s also coping with the repercussions of a recent divorce. But his fate takes a brighter turn when his alma mater, Wayne State University, offers to produce one of his plays, Swept Away. To the forlorn McCutcheon, the news seems like a welcome solution to all his problems.
Then a love affair with a married woman enters the picture. Feeling vulnerable, Dennis makes what readers will recognize as all of the “rebound” moves and mistakes. And as if that’s not enough on his emotional plate, he is mugged.
But there’s still more to pile on—he’s suspected of killing his new lover’s husband. Why not? Could Dennis’s life be more up and down than a roller coaster? Yes, it turns out. It can be. He seems to be a pawn in an entertainingly elaborate scheme to make him the fall guy in an impressive murder plot.
Johnston’s novel is a panorama of pop culture references and familiar places for readers to enjoy, especially those from the Greater Northeast US. Rehoboth Beach, Gettysburg, Brandywine River Museum in Chadd’s Ford, Monty Python, Law & Order’s Jerry Orbach, Candid Camera, the Scranton-Times Tribune, and Off-Broadway’s longest running play The Fantasticks all make appearances. But then Johnston even blends what could be paranormal activities into the story. Suffice it to say, we’re always on the edge of our seat with surprise in this one.
Author Arnold Johnston himself is an accomplished actor-singer, having performed over 100 roles on stage, screen, and radio, as well as many concerts. His own ‘lived experiences’ are blended into this first-rate unexpected crime novel. The focus of the book’s main action takes place in Detroit where, like his protagonist Dennis McCutcheon, Johnston spent his formative years. If his story is anything like this one, we’ve got ourselves quite a character in this author.
Among many entertaining aspects of this work is how Johnston captures the academic milieu in all its hilariously self-important pomp and circumstance. Although the author notes that his musings are all fictional, his sarcasm for the academe rings true, especially with its comfortably tenured professors working under the erroneous assumption that their venerable institutions are more than they are.
All in all, Johnston has delivered an adventuresome tale replete with academic fussiness, and careers lost and then retooled, against a backdrop of easily recognized pop culture tidbits and a labyrinth murder plot.
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Genre: Crime / Humor
Print Length: 338 pages
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