TWISTING THE ROPE
R.A. MacAvoy


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Bantam, 1986
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Contemporary Fantasy Mystery

The couple we loved in the award-winning TEA WITH THE BLACK DRAGON is back in R.A. MacAvoy’s TWISTING THE ROPE. A sequel, yes, but different in tone, approach, and especially in purpose.

Martha and Mayland have taken a band on tour: five musicians focused on playing Irish folk music, one Chinese road manager with a cold (Mayland), and Martha’s three-year-old granddaughter Marty. We open on a scene of the normal frictions of road touring, except that these are not normal frictions at all. As we gradually learn the secrets of each member of the group, we come to understand why the situation is so much more explosive than matters seem to warrant.

The story is set on the beautiful shores of Santa Cruz, which won’t be bothered by one strangeness more or less. Piper George St. Ives winds up dead, which was only to be expected. By the time of his merciful release, we have become acquainted with so many of his personal problems that it is perfectly possible he killed himself. But he has also mortally offended the affectedly contemptuous harpist Elen, sniped continually at vulnerable young accordion player Padraig, involved New Age guitarist Teddy in matters he would rather not touch, and perhaps worst of all, damaged the quality of their music for Martha, fiddler and band leader. Everyone knows Martha would never kill anyone, but no one, not even Mayland himself, knows what his devotion to her would make him capable of. In the midst of this snarl of emotions, the repeated wanderings-off of little Marty seem to lose their importance.

When I picked up TWISTING THE ROPE, to follow my absorbed read of TEA WITH THE BLACK DRAGON, I expected the subtle beauty and magic of TEA – indeed, of most of her other books. However her purposes in writing this sequel were very different. The focus of TWISTING THE ROPE is on the bending of fairly normal people in unexpected directions by an unidentified catalyst.

Author MacAvoy says that her interest is in writing and character, not in plot. TWISTING THE ROPE is entirely character driven – assuming the characters have possibilities unknown anywhere but in a fantasy California. Readers of TEA WITH THE BLACK DRAGON already know some of the potentials of Mayland Long, but there is another, unidentified character influencing the action. The flaw in the plotting is that the major antagonist comes into view so late. We get hints of it throughout the book, but by the time we see clearly, it is too late for readers to feel they are taking part in the struggle.

In spite of the differences between the two books, I recommend reading TEA WITH THE BLACK DRAGON before reading TWISTING THE ROPE. That is because the explanation of Mayland’s character is given in TEA, and not repeated in TWISTING. Without explanation, he will not make sense as a person. (Also, you should seize any reason to read TEA WITH THE BLACK DRAGON.) My guess about this pair of books is, the publishing contract for TEA WITH THE BLACK DRAGON required a sequel the author hadn’t intended to write, so she made use of the beloved main characters to meet goals which suited her later development. The result is more complex, not as absorbing, but with people who will also stay in your memory.

Aug 2003 Review

 

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