UNCHARTED TERRITORY - A MAD MAX MYSTERY
Reviewed by C. Neuroticus Absolutus
Although a stand-alone novel, Uncharted Territory is the second in a series featuring grandmother Mad Max’s tribulations as she raises her two precocious grandchildren Emilie and Alex. Since the death of her daughter, Max has traipsed after her son-in-law Whip and the changing geographic of his work to allow the children the advantages of having their father in their lives along with a dependable and financially independent adult: Max. His most recent assignment takes him, Max and the children into the Deep South where hurricane Katrina has ravished the lives of millions. Whip and his crews immediately start work to repair and rebuild sections of Route 90 along the Gulf shores in Mississippi. Max’s entourage consists of a British tutor for the children and a boyfriend who share custom-built trailers as their homes and a school bus fittingly converted into a classroom.
The gathering of buzzards darkening nearby skies soon leads Max’s boyfriend Johnny to discover the bodies of three Hispanic workers who are undoubtedly the victims of murder. The local Sheriff―with blatant, undeniable Southern bias―refuses to waste his time investigating the death of illegals from Mexico. When additional bodies are found, Max’s trailers and the shelters of the crews are fenced in and an armed guard posted at the gate. They will provide their own security as a roaming band of trouble makers circles nearby, daily threatening the working crews and the children.
While seeking to identify the young hoodlums, Max encounters racial tensions between two Baptist preachers, one black, one white, both waiting for their flocks to return home and to their ministrations. But the overpowering fist of Katrina had demolished almost everything standing above ground level. Add to the mix a nearby Catholic Church manse populated with a Hispanic woman, her teen-age daughter and a physically and sexually abusive priest who has his eyes on the ripening young girl. Max makes it her mission to save both the mother and daughter―if she can.
Ms. Ashton brings her keen mind to bear on the hell-on-earth wrought by Katrina: the desolation; the death of 1,833 people; the flooding that perhaps outmatches the destruction of the hurricane-force wind; the palpable social, political and economic devastation and the ruination of countless families’ unity. Within the short sweep of Uncharted Territory, she exposes the pervasive discrimination, reveals the disrespect for authority and propensity for violence among undisciplined young men, and forces us to examine modern man’s puny attempts to face down the un-dammable forces of nature. Ms. Ashton is a rising star in literature with her acute observations about the current state of our society, the development of heroic yet fallible characters and the interplay between them. An acerbic New-York-Yankee wit comfortably rounds out Max’s characterization. If you’re looking for a five-star read, get your copy of Uncharted Territory now.