Unsolicited by Julie Kaewert
(Bantam, $5.99, NV) ISBN 0-553-58209-7
Set in the London world of book publishing, Unsolicited, recently published in paperback, was first published in hardcover (by St. Martin’s Press) in 1994. This is actually the first in Ms. Kaewert’s series featuring Alex Plumtree, the bookish publisher of Plumtree Press. Alex, together with his brother Max, a journalist, inherited the business upon the death of their parents. Max has continued to work as a journalist while Alex assumed the duties of running the small publishing firm. The business has never been wildly successful, but had managed to stay afloat publishing scholarly tomes, until recently.

An anonymous author, known only as Arthur, has submitted manuscripts to Plumtree Press detailing the plight of some British children during World War II. To keep their children safe from the bombings in London, some parents sent their children to the country. When the country dwellers ability to care for these children reached its limit, a plan was devised to send children to the United States for the duration of the war. As is often the case in humanitarian efforts, unscrupulous people saw a way to exploit the situation to profit financially.

The children sent to America were told, untruthfully, that their parents had been killed in the bombings. In the United States, potential adoptive parents were told these children were adoptable if they would pay the cost of transporting the child and for processing the paperwork. Naturally, the exploiters, who were in actuality, kidnappers, inflated the costs involved and made a tidy profit.

Arthur’s first book, entitled Deliver Us from Evil, ostensibly a novel, based on the children’s plight, was a huge success. Arthur, obligingly, was following up the novel with a sequel, Those Who Trespass Against Us, of which Alex had received all but the last five chapters. Alex has given the uncompleted manuscript to friend and book critic, Barnes Appleton. At a party given by a fellow publisher Alex and Barnes (who has read the manuscript and written a review, based on his best guess how it will end) are almost killed.

Alex is becoming concerned about Arthur’s well being since he has always before been prompt in submitting his work, and had promised the last chapters some weeks ago. When Barnes subsequently dies under suspicious circumstances, Alex begins to suspect that Arthur’s “story” is actually fact, and the person responsible for Barnes’ death, and perhaps, Arthur’s, is a kidnapper who fears exposure with the publicity surrounding Arthur’s work.

Unsolicited is not only the first in Julie Kaewert’s series involving Alex Plumtree and Plumtree Press but, from a plot standpoint, it is unquestionably her best. The story is plausible, logically presented, and engages the reader’s interest from page one. Although the book was written some six or so years ago, it does not reveal its age by references to dated technology as is a curse that befalls so many authors these days. The subject matter of the books within the book gives the reader some material to think about.

The characters, while likable and readily engaging the reader’s sympathy tend to be stereotypical. Alex keeps getting himself into difficult situations, despite the fact he should know better. He is not portrayed as being particularly athletic, yet he gets into some pretty sticky situations, and emerges unscathed each time. His devotion to his love interest, Sarah, is so overdone it seems almost comical. The villains are probably the most realistic characters. They have evil on their minds but they do have some good qualities.

Book lovers should enjoy Ms. Kaewert’s presentation of some of the aspects of the publishing trade. Sailing enthusiasts will enjoy the scenes of Alex trying to negotiate an unfamiliar craft in unfamiliar waters. The author makes a good teacher; her descriptions are readily understood by a novice in these fields.

Ms. Kaewert’s shortcoming is her detailing of action scenes. Alex, who is repeatedly described as a bookish man, certifiably blind without his glasses, gets involved in some physically challenging and punishing situations. Yet each time, he emerges with his body essentially intact. I have a hard time believing he could swim from one yacht to another in a stormy sea, get his safety harness cord wrapped around the moving propeller of the other yacht, without harming himself. Or that Alex, a six foot man, could hide behind a small holly bush - confident that no one would see him.

To fully appreciate Unsolicited the reader is advised to concentrate on what Ms. Kaewert does best. She is a great teacher. She explains points about book publishing and sailing with precise clarity. She has presented an interesting story within a story describing how a person’s past malevolent deeds returned to haunt him. Just be willing to give the author a lot of latitude in her action scenes.

--Andy Plonka

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