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Heaven Is High: A Barbara Holloway Novel by Kate Wilhelm
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312658601
Date: 01 February 2011 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Defense attorney Barbara Holloway has promised NFL football player Martin Owens that she will prevent his wife Binnie, an illegal immigrant, from being deported to Haiti. Binnie would rather die than return to Haiti and become enslaved once again by Domonic Guteriz, an evil pirate who forced her mother into prostitution until she died of cancer. Barbara travels alone to the heavenly paradise of Belize in order to locate Binnie's true family and prove she is Belizean. While uncovering dark family secrets, Barbara is abducted by drug lords and must escape death by traveling through a jungle hell.

Kate Wilhelm's Heaven Is High is an emotional, poignant mystery that centers around love, especially the loss of a loved one. This novel is not a bloody, violent crime noir. Most of the killings are done off screen. Barbara Holloway finds out about them secondhand. She doesn't kill anyone. Neither is this novel a humorous, sweet cozy. Nor is it an Agatha Christie-like mystery. Heaven Is High is more of a legal thriller, with some mild action, set against the beautiful Caribbean paradise of Belize.

The time is the early 1980s. Ronald Reagan is still president. Barbara doesn't use a cell phone or own a laptop computer. She still mourns the drowning death of Mike Denisen. (I honestly don't know who he was.) She has bought an old house in an impoverished neighborhood. Though she loves her famous attorney father, Frank Holloway, she is establishing her own business and trying to get out from underneath his suffocating wings of protection. She still feels guilty about not spending more time with her mom when she was dying of cancer; this guilt propels her to travel to Belize to search for Binnie’s family. Unfortunately she discovers a villainous uncle.

The reader might find it difficulty to believe that piracy still exists. I ensure you that it does. Recently, in Norfolk, Virginia, near my hometown, five Somali pirates were given life sentences for attacking the USS Nicholas, a U.S. warship, in the Indian Ocean. Also, women all around the world are still being held captive in sexual slavery. According to 4-Ever, human trafficking is not dead; it is the third largest global crime, close behind drugs and arms trafficking. I recommend reading Gerrie Ferris Finger's suspenseful mystery, The End Game, which deals with child trafficking.

Heaven is High is the first Barbara Holloway mystery that I've read. If I was in trouble, I would definitely want her as my lawyer. She will go from heaven to hell to defend her client. She risked it all, her career and her life, for Binnie Martin. I wish I had read the other Barbara Holloway novels. I chose to read Heaven is High because I learned it has a standalone plot and a great portion of it takes place in Belize. I fell in love with Belize after reading about it in Ian Vasquez's expertly crafted crime noir Mr. Hooligan. Belize is a tropical heaven replete with islands, known as cayes, lush rainforests, underwater caves, barrier reefs and Mayan ruins. Unfortunately, Barbara spends most of her time on a finca, or farm, on which marijuana is growing. It is surrounded by swampy land infested with jaguars, alligators and black howler monkeys that scream like banshees.

Binnie's life story of piracy and enslavement is quite sad and provided a great opener for Heaven Is High. Barbara's adventures in Belize are intriguing. She meets some very quirky and unusual characters. Barbara describes them as being like characters from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. Unfortunately, when Barbara returns to the safety of her hometown, Eugene, Oregon, the novel loses its momentum. There are some bittersweet moments and news of villains being executed; however, Barbara mostly plays hardball with immigration officials while supporting characters, such as PI Bailey Novell, experience all the action. Also, the ending was a bit vague to me. I had to make my own assumptions.

Kate Wilhelm's Heaven is High is highly recommended if you like legal thrillers that have a high emotional impact rather than a high body count. It is the type of mystery that makes you sympathize with the hardships of others, especially those who live in foreign lands. After reading Heaven is High, the reader will appreciate beloved family members who are still alive. I can sympathize with Barbara; sometimes parents can become suffocating and we children try to become independent without hurting their feelings. Also, many readers, like Barbara, may have already lost a parent. Furthermore, reading Heaven is High made me more than ever want to take a plane trip to Belize. Unfortunately, the cost of a plane ticket is also high, higher than heaven.

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