Mystery & Crime

Secret Passages

By

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"Secret Passages" by R.D. Hathaway offers intrigue in two centuries as Iowa reporter Rennie Haran seeks the truth about a 1920s death.

Synopsis

Discover the adventures of a new, young protagonist. She’s not a Laura Croft or an Indiana Jones type of person. She’s just a 30-year old, angry newspaper reporter from Iowa who gets in the way of powerful forces in the shadows. Her determination to find the truth grows as she deals with threats to her career and her life.

“A dramatic mystery thriller from the 1920’s to the present. Egyptian artifacts found in the British Museum, a cold-case murder of a college professor, new-found love, and the most profound discovery in human history. An innocent, young newspaper reporter from Iowa is on the hunt for truth, and she’s being hunted.

What does she do? What happened? Run with her and find out.”

In 1923 Professor Matthias Justus takes a sabbatical from Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa to  help the British Museum in London catalogue the historic items from the tomb of Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun.

He never returned to Iowa, dying in London under mysterious circumstances.

Modern day reporter Rennie Haran is assigned to unravel this century-old intrigue.

So begins “Secret Passages,” a novel by R.D. Hathaway.

Within that simple premise Hathaway reveals a tale of greater purpose: A clash of class differences between the powerful and the powerless, a broad examination of history and religion, and the possibility that there are “secret passages” that illuminate the beginnings of Christianity.

The title refers to an artifact that Matthias discovers in the museum which changes the foundation of his faith, and to the manner in which Matthias and Rennie, in modern times, care for this artifact.

By way of a clever device, Rennie, after reading Matthias’ journals, finds herself taking on a physical and spiritual voyage similar to his; her own “secret passage.”

Stories with such broad intentions and grand schemes call for prose that drives the reader through the tale, building anticipation, encouraging them to ask, “what’s next.”

“Secret Passages” does not deliver such prose and the telling suffers.

The writing is pleasant enough, but too often pedantic. Descriptions lay on the page as backdrops, never attaching to character. Characters’ speech patterns are not differentiated.

“Secret Passages ” contains few precisely placed clues or red herrings that make the reading exciting. A stranger across a street or a random black car do not generate mystery.

The story runs uninterrupted with little conflict and no characters surprises: The prize which all are seeking is described in the beginning as world changing, leaving little room for doubt. The story would have been better served by leaving  that  pronouncement to Matthias alone.

The ending, which should have been illuminating and triumphant, was a letdown because it had been so obviously broadcast from the start.

Most disappointing of all was Rennie herself.

She is presented as an experienced reporter yet her first search for Matthias Justus was a phone call to the college  in which she asks a student operator if he knows anything about a professor from the 1920s and not an Internet search. Later when asked who she is researching, she failed to know the spelling of his name.

“Secret Passages” is well researched, and for that the author is due kudos. But that deep and evocative lesson is lost in a bland telling.

Reviewed by

I am a career award-winning journalist and the author of the four-book Frank Nagler Mystery series. Kirkus Reviews called Nagler "one of modern fiction's expertly drawn detectives." I have also written short stores, poetry, and literary fiction.

Synopsis

Discover the adventures of a new, young protagonist. She’s not a Laura Croft or an Indiana Jones type of person. She’s just a 30-year old, angry newspaper reporter from Iowa who gets in the way of powerful forces in the shadows. Her determination to find the truth grows as she deals with threats to her career and her life.

“A dramatic mystery thriller from the 1920’s to the present. Egyptian artifacts found in the British Museum, a cold-case murder of a college professor, new-found love, and the most profound discovery in human history. An innocent, young newspaper reporter from Iowa is on the hunt for truth, and she’s being hunted.

What does she do? What happened? Run with her and find out.”

Des Moines, Iowa, The Present

“What the world needs is a hard slap in the face. What do you think, Balderdash?”

A large grey cat leaped from the arms of Rennie Haran onto the floor. Its long fur dusted the dark wood as the cat scampered down the stairway.

The hard heels of Rennie’s boots banged down the oak steps of an old house until she stopped on a landing and stretched, producing a wide-mouthed yawn. She glanced outside to see the morning weather. Another yawn was captured in her hand.

“Uh!” she grunted, shaking her head. “Where’s the coffee? Balderdash! Did you make coffee?” She grinned.

Her hand flowed through her long, dark brown hair to lift it from under the strap of her courier bag. Two steps above the last step, she paused and checked her white satin shirt for dribbles of toothpaste. She shrugged, then she saw Balderdash rubbing back and forth against the corner of the last step.

“Hey buddy, good morning. Sorry I’ve been such a bitch. Do cats have bad days?”

She lifted him up in her arms and walked to the couch in the living room, letting him jump to the cushion and then to the floor. Dropping her bag on the couch, she stabbed her hand in it when a cell phone demanded attention.

“Okay, okay! I’m here! Hold on!”

Searching through the bag, she dumped the contents on the couch and grabbed the phone.

“Rennie Haran. Yeah, right. I don’t know. I’m leaving for the office now. I’ll call her when I get there. Thanks.”

She studied the phone and pressed the icon for text messages. Squinting as she read, her mouth and face twisted. She peered over the edge of the phone at a bookcase where there were family photos, stacked books, and a wrapped package. One photo shows a woman in her 50’s wearing a swimming suit and with a gold medal hanging from a ribbon around her neck. Next to that is one of a man the same age speaking at a lectern on which appears the seal of a university.

She dropped the phone on the bag and saw Balderdash on the sill of a window, studying something in the distance and flicking his tail.

“Hey, if you’re not busy today, call my mom and catch up. Also, read dad’s new book when you get a chance. You’ve probably wondered what ideas were shared by Buddha and Jesus.”

The cat twitched its tail but didn’t look back.

The phone chanted the arrival of another text message. Her nostrils flared as she checked it. She turned to Balderdash.

“Oh, and call scum-bag, and tell him I KNOW he messed up, like all over town! Tell him I’m busy for the next hundred years.”

Rennie stuffed the dumped goods from the cushion into the bag, flung the strap over her shoulder, and stuck the phone in her pants pocket. She grabbed her purse from the table and pulled the strap over her other shoulder. The heels of her boots hammered again on the old hardwood flooring as she walked to where Balderdash was viewing the world. She bent down and stoked his fur. His head tilted up as he pretended to meow.

“Hey buddy, you see squirrels out there? Stick with me. We only need each other. Okay? No more people. Just you and me.”

Her lips smacked a kiss in his direction as she stood and stormed out the door.

About the author

R.D. Hathaway is an adventurer who danced the Argentine tango in Buenos Aires, gone down a shaft into a pharaoh’s tomb, studied at Oxford, and negotiated in Turkish in the Covered Bazaar of Istanbul. He writes novels with colorful characters, complex mysteries, and ideas that challenge conventions view profile

Published on May 29, 2020

120000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Mystery & Crime

Reviewed by

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