Gail Fraser's second novel in the Lumby series, Stealing Lumby, is a refreshing change of pace from the original storyline provided in The Lumby Lines. The first story took a good 40 pages or more to set the stage before the reader ever discerns who the main characters are.
Stealing Lumby jumps right into the action as one of the nation's prized landscape painting, The Barns of Lumby, is stolen from a New York museum, drawing much unwanted attention to the little town where the painting was created. Strange things happen (strange even for Lumby) in the town as it appears that someone is attempting to sabotage one woman's financial future and sense of well being, and she just happens to be the woman who owns the barns that were the inspiration and subject of the stolen painting.
Main characters Mark, Pam, Brooke, Joshua, Brother Matthew, and Hank the flamingo return as the story turns and focuses more on Katie (owner of the barns), Adam Massey (writer/reporter assigned the task of completing an unfinished biography on the famous painter), and Dana Porter (artist who painted The Barns of Lumby some 40 years prior).
The Lumby series thus far has some solid strengths and some unfortunate weaknesses. Strengths revolve around creation of a solid metanarrative and several clever subnarratives that all fit perfectly together. The reader is inevitably impressed by the creativity necessary to create a small town with so many amusing quirks. The quirky events and personality of Lumby are fluid and well fitting, avoiding any sense of artificiality which one might expect from the invention of a realistic town as strange as this one.
The back story of Charlotte and Dana Porter, as told by Charlotte to Katie, gives the reader a solid sense of the connection between artist and town. Sentimental reminiscing effectively builds a sense of historical reality to the story.
The novel's greatest weakness, as with The Lumby Lines, lies within the dialogue. Every reader won't share this critique, which is why I mention it last. One of the most entertaining and realism enhancing potentials in any given novel is the dialogue. Where the narrative can work overtime to provide enough backdrop and historical significance to set the scene, carefully crafted dialogue can paint a vivid picture in the mind of the reader.
The characters in the Lumby series lack unique voices. Everyone responds to various situations with very unnatural language – much more formal, educated, and literary than any small town uses that I've ever heard of. I expected country colloquialisms, slang, and unique word choices to come from the mouths of various characters, based on their backgrounds. Dana should speak differently than Simon. Mark should speak differently than Dennis. Pam should speak differently than Katie. Everyone shouldn't be using the same diction palette.
The storyline is worth reading. But the satisfaction level is sub par because most everyone sounds the same. If these books were revised and the characters each given unique sayings, slang terms, and responses to situations, this series could have won awards.
But don't take my word for it. Pick up a copy of The Lumby Lines today and look for Stealing Lumby soon.
Stealing Lumby is scheduled to hit the shelves in September 2007.