Sherlock Holmes. The Hardy Boys. Miss Marple. The list of famous fictional detectives is long and illustrious. Could these sleuths soon be joined by Southern California’s own R. A. Huber? La Crescenta resident Alice Zogg’s new novel, “Revamp Camp”, stars Huber, an elderly female amateur detective living in Pasadena, in a strange mystery involving a rehab center for troubled youths.
In the early chapters of the novel, Huber is hired by Roger Hawk, a friend of her husband’s, to find out what has happened to his daughter, Emily. Emily was recently admitted to Revamp Camp, a treatment and rehab facility in Solvang, but has since been cut off from communicating with her family. Huber sends Andi, her young assistant, to the camp posing as a recovering alcoholic, but when weeks go by and Andi herself is not heard from, Huber decides to take matters into her own hands.
“Revamp Camp” is actually the seventh book in a series of novels starring R. A. Huber. Like Zogg herself, Huber and her husband were born in Switzerland, but have been living in the United States for several decades. This fact helps mold the character into a more believable entity, much in the same way that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s experiences as a doctor made his character Dr. John Watson come alive.
While it may not seem like a terribly clever mystery—nothing truly mysterious happens throughout the first half of the novel, and the final reveal is hardly surprising—the plot is actually very strong and well developed. “Revamp Camp” could very easily be turned into a suspenseful thriller, or even a drama about the dangers of substance abuse.
Unfortunately, despite the number of decades that Zogg has spent living in America, there is still a sense of awkwardness surrounding the voices of her characters and narrator. The dialogue is stiff and unrealistic, and many of the characters sound exactly the same. The prose leaves much to be desired as well. The events, actions and reactions that take place in the story are all incredibly compelling, but the way that they are told could use work. The point of view shifts many times between characters, creating a disjointed sense of time that does little to aid the fairly linear narrative.
It is a major accomplishment to have published so many books featuring the bold and intelligent Huber, and for that Zogg deserves much applause. Her senses of suspense and story lend themselves well to film adaptation, which is extremely important in the publishing world of today. Her writing, however, leaves much to be desired, though the earlier volumes of Huber’s adventures may be better.
About the writer
Brian McGackin is an alumnus of USC’s graduate creative writing program, where he focused on poetry and literary critical analysis.
Who: La Crescenta resident Alice Zogg
What: “Revamp Camp”, her mystery novel starring amateur detective R.A. Huber (Aventine Press)
Where: Available online through major book sellers
Cost: $14.95 (paperback, 220 pages)