Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cambio Bay, Kate Wilhelm

Kate Wilhelm's Cambio Bay is light fantasy, combining a character study style with an old house that seems to insulate itself and its inhabitants from outside influences and the ravages of time. Cambio Bay is an isolated community on the Santa Barbara coastline of central California, which has somehow escaped the notice of the map makers.

A woman (Iris) and her unspeaking daughter (Bonnie) are on the run because Iris' flaky boyfriend has run afoul of a drug kingpin for whom he did odd jobs. A storm and earthquake shut down the highway and divert Iris and a few other travelers to Cambio Bay and Luisa'a Guest House. Carolyn is a real estate agent with a background in design who quickly realizes that the house's layout doesn't make any sense. She can't be sure that the rooms aren't always in the same places, but she is positive that rooms on opposite sides of the hallway can't both face the beach. She tries several times to sketch out the parts of the floor plan that she has become familiar with (an exercise she commonly performs while touring houses before showing them in her business), and when she can't make consistent picture, she decides the place is too creepy and leaves. Of course the evolving story and the other guests' troubles find ways to lure her back.

In the end, the house turns out to be a force for good, and the good and innocent visitors find ways to outsmart the bad guys. As the story unfolds, we get to know the visitors quite well, and see what drives them. Bonnie's lack of speech is never explained, nor why the drug kingpin is obsessed with capturing her. The house's mystery is traced back to some local Native American legends.

Overall, a pretty fun read, but not very deep. Kate Wilhelm knows how to present interact characters in an interesting story, even when the conflicts remain on a very small scale.

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