Dianna T. Benson's 'The Hidden Son' a decent start to the mystery series

features@islandpacket.comApril 6, 2013 

Author Dianna T. Benson, a middle-aged housewife from Raleigh, has led an active, fulfilling life but never gave up her dream of being a writer. She majored in communications and then worked 10 years as a travel agent. She quit to qualify for an emergency medical license, and has worked as a hazmat and FEMA operative since 2005. She has won awards in running, cycling, climbing, scuba diving, and three state titles in tennis. She also is married and raising three children, a full-time job in itself.

Now, Benson is on her way to becoming a successful novelist. "The Hidden Son" is the first novel in a trilogy set in the Cayman Islands, and the first book in an amazing nine-book contract.

In "The Hidden Son" it quickly becomes clear that Benson is drawing heavily on her past career. Her central character, Lelisa Diamond, is scuba diving in the Caymans when she realizes she cannot see her diving partner, Rick Eaton.

She swims frantically ahead and spots his limp body, floating helplessly ahead of her. He does not respond to her efforts to revive him, and despite the fact that they are at a depth of more than 90 feet, and should be brought slowly to the surface, she is desperate to save him and ascends too fast. She is not only too late to save Rick's life, but has seriously endangered her own.

Certain that Rick has been murdered, she is prevented from trying to discover how he died and who was to blame by Alec Dyer of the Royal Caymans Island Police. He not only sees her as the logical murderer, but knows her sudden ascent can result in decompression sickness. Without treatment, she will die.

Lelisa, a special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, already has rejected direct orders from her superior, knows she is in danger and trusts no one, Alec Dyer in particular. She makes this clear within the first 10 pages, and 200 pages later is still unwilling to trust him.

It turns out that poison had been put in what should have been her oxygen supply and, in what she calls a mistake, she was wearing Rick's scuba gear and he was wearing hers. A murderer might have wanted to kill her -- or, in Dyer's view -- she could have deliberately made the switch, knowing Rick would die.

The author tells us a lot about treatment for decompression and other matters pertaining to emergency medical treatment, and the story is slowed down a lot by all the technical detail. And, although Alec and Lelisa are drawn to each other, nobody trusts anyone. The story eventually winds up with corruption in high places, and includes an All-American basketball star, a sub-plot involving Dyer's missing daughter and hostile ex-wife, another sub-plot involving her drug-dealing father, and a great deal of repetitive reasons to keep the lovers apart. It all gets sorted out at the end with an underwater proposal as Benson sets up the second book in the trilogy.

Benson isn't a bad writer, and she certainly should be commended for her energy, but I felt this book was about 75 pages too long. If the next two books are going to involve Lelisa and Alec teaming up to solve crimes in the islands, I hope she learns to speed things along a little more briskly.

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