[Following is the official OnlineBookClub.org review of "Dreamer of Downing Street" by Roberta L. Smith.]
3 out of 4 starsReview by bookowlieShare This Review
A psychic, a murder, and Denver in 1944! The Dreamer of Downing Street by Roberta L. Smith certainly caught my attention. It is a prequel to the author’s Mickey McCoy series and categorized in the Crime/Mystery/Thriller Fiction genre. Ever since he was a child, Franklin “Frank” Powell has had “knowings” or psychic thoughts. He also can hear what other people are thinking. When he grows up, he puts these talents to good use, setting up shop as a psychic. Thankfully, he uses his gift to try to stop bad acts in advance. With the help of his friend Mike, a policeman, Frank investigates a decades-old crime in order to exonerate his mother. Add a few ghosts, a parolee brother, and a complicated love life to the mix and the stage is set for this historical mystery.
Frank is a likeable yet flawed character. His crush on a tavern proprietor, Dinah, and his caring for his clients gives him a grounded, realistic feel, despite his supernatural abilities. He also has a few cute quirks, such as saying “La la la” over and over to drown out the voices in his head. The minor characters are given a clear backstory and personality so that you feel like you know them well. The only exception is Frank’s girlfriend Winnie, who I didn’t get a good sense of. It seemed like she was just inserted in the story here and there.
The author’s casual writing style is peppered with sophisticated phrasing and a subtle, dry humor. I like that Mike gains information at different points, but is not a sidekick in an overwhelming way. In fact, Frank finds more on his own through his psychic talents and the help of two ghosts. The author doesn’t hit the reader over the head with the cliché of a policeman friend as a plot device.
The Denver setting is a subtle backdrop. There are scattered references to hiking places, the Old Mill Tunnel of Love fire, and a few streets and buildings, but overall I didn’t really get a distinct sense of place. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it allows the reader to focus on the plot.
It did take me a little while to get into the plot due to the jumps between time periods and subplots. The story begins with a vignette from Frank’s childhood and then jumps forward to 20 years later. Then Frank leaves his body for a long passage and goes back in time to chat with Mrs. Tabor, a troubled woman he met as a child. After a few chapters, the time period stayed constant for longer stretches.
The main storyline is inventive, not only the crux of it but all the neat little details. Frank is able to know when a familiar ghost is in the room as the temperature drops significantly and the scent of tobacco fills the air. I also enjoyed the way the author reveals the initial clues, alternating between actual childhood memories and psychic thoughts.
The pacing is slow at times. The side stories about Dinah, Frank’s client Bessie, his ex-wife, and Mrs. Tabor are interesting. However, these subplots often throw the central storyline off track. I found myself wondering, “When are we going to get back to the mystery?” Frank’s mother and brother are sitting in jail and almost forgotten on the back burner for a long period. During large chunks of the book, Frank’s “house ghost” keeps the mystery from completely falling off the radar, but just barely.
This book has earned 3 out of 4 stars. In spite of the busy plot, I enjoyed the story. There are several neat twists that made me smile or sit up with a jolt, although the “few-too-many” turns became a little dizzying in the last third of the book. Mystery readers and anyone who appreciates quirky characters and benevolent ghosts will find this a worthwhile read. As for the naysayers, Frank would say, “La la la.”