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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Review of Ashes to Water from The Richmond Times Dispatch

Published: June 27, 2010

Anyone who has lived in a small town knows that the Norman Rockwell veneer is just that -- an idyllic façade covering a multitude of sins.

Richmond actress, playwright and author Irene Zieg ler, who was raised in Florida, peels the surface away in her first novel, Ashes to Water (394 pages, Five Star, $25.95).

Annie Bartlett grew up on a lake near DeLeon (read DeLand), Fla. When she was 9, her mother committed suicide by drowning in the lake. Neither Annie nor older sister Leigh got along with their dad, and both left as soon as they could. Annie's now 28, a photographer in Michigan and engaged. When she gets a call that her father has been murdered, she travels to Florida intent on a quick funeral and a quicker departure.

But that's before she learns that the main suspect is her father's girlfriend, Della Shiftlet, who claims innocence and asks Annie for help. And before Leigh -- beautiful, addicted Leigh -- blows into town. And before Annie runs into old boyfriend Pete Duncan, Della's court-appointed lawyer.

Meanwhile, an arsonist is torching houses built by a powerful and ambitious Miccosukee Indian, and a judge's mentally disabled son is suspected in the fires. And Annie decides that with so much in doubt and in limbo, she'll stand and fight.
The characters are fleshed in different degrees, but Annie is instantly memorable: strong, troubled and fully human.
Ziegler's prose displays a flair for the lyrical: "As she rowed with bandaged hands, the hem of Annie's long, white dress brushed the bottom of the boat. The air smelled burnt, but the sky was the bright blue of Greek pottery, and the high, hot sun beat down on Annie's head."

And the gritty: "Annie slowly moved her knees beneath her. Dizzy, she grasped what felt like a metal shelf leg to steady herself, and, sweaty with shock, her hand stuck. Blind, bleeding and freezing, she cried out for Camp, darkness absorbing her cries in its sticky coat."

"Ashes to Water" works on so many levels -- the troubled parent-child relationship, the tension between Anglos and Native Americans, the bad choices we sometimes make in the pursuit of love -- that the reader has much to digest. And Ziegler, in addition to laying out a dandy whodunit, accurately portrays the devastation wrought on Old Florida by New Florida, an acre at a time.
. . .


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