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Book review: 'Lights Out!' by Donald Bain

Donald Bain's 'Lights Out!' is available now from Severn House Publishers.

'Lights Out!' by Donald Bain


Today, Hartford Books Examiner reviews Lights Out! (Severn House Publishers, $27.95) by Donald Bain.

Though Bain is brilliantly prolific—he is the author/ghostwriter of more than 115 books, many of which have been bestsellers—Lights Out! represents his first solely credited thriller. His most well-known works are the Murder, She Wrote series (on which he collaborates with the fictitious amateur sleuth, Jessica Fletcher, and his wife, Renee Paley-Bain) and Margaret Truman’s Capital Crime series, set in Washington, D.C.; he also wrote the airline comedy, Coffee Tea or Me?, and its sequels, which have sold more than 5-million copies worldwide collectively. Bain is a member of Sigma Delta Chi, the Writer's Guild of America, the Authors Guild, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the Mystery Writers of America, the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers, and the Private Eye Writers of America.

In Lights Out!, which was published in the UK last February and America earlier this month, readers are introduced to Carlton Smythe (rhymes with blithe)—a fifty-something Canadian electrical engineer who married into wealth but finds that stability at risk after falling madly in love with a beautiful, exotic, and notably younger woman living in Buenos Aires. Hoping to escape his strained marriage (and his overbearing mother-in-law) for a more adventurous life in Argentina with Gina Ellanado, Carlton comes up with a desperate money-making scheme that’s brilliant in its simplicity yet rife with potential repercussions: an organized blackout that will allow criminal elements with foreknowledge of the event to benefit—for a price, of course.

Of course, Carlton is well aware that he can’t possibly pull off such a feat on his own, so he enlists the services of a former co-worker, Paul Saison, who has the means to orchestrate the actual blackout. But will Saison’s ill-temperament and fondness for alcohol jeopardize the mission? Carlton also invites Mob boss Dominick “Dom” Martone—a supporter of his wife’s opera company whose “connections” remain largely ignored, given his popularity—into the mix, and Martone is able to then sell the information as to when and where the blackouts will occur to his associates. It’s the perfect recipe for riches—or retribution, should things not go off as planned.

Carlton’s expanding social circle makes for interplay that is sometimes humorous and sometimes harrowing, and his travels—to Buenos Aires for his romantic trysts and the United States to legitimize Dom’s dealings—add yet another layer of intrigue to a promising premise. Bain, master storyteller that he is, leaves you rooting for the scoundrel (after all, he’s just a man going through a slightly aggrandized midlife crisis!), or at least empathizing with him, as it’s the basic human condition to want something (or things) that is just out of reach, no matter how good you may have it. Because, really, aren’t we all just a few bad decisions away from such calamity?

Equal parts caper and comedy, Lights Out! will compel you to keep reading until the last page has been turned. Nostalgically old-fashioned in tone yet entirely relevant in subject matter—think today’s jet-setting, youth-obsessed, money-hungry society—the book’s quirky characters (and circumstances) serve as a reminder that strong people and plot are timeless. Given the author’s highly versatile career, one might be tempted to ask: “Will the real Donald Bain please stand up?” I think he just did …