Ted Gables has lived for years with a horrific secret. Now his wife and two of his best friends have been murdered and the only connection between the victims is Ted himself.

Fleeing from a pair of professional killers, Ted cannot escape the memories of White Birch Camp and the boys with whom he shared not only a cabin but a life-changing experience. Things become even more dangerous when one of Ted’s former camp-mates announces his candidacy for president.

Ted finds himself back at the scene of his childhood trauma where he must face his demons and reconnect with his first love.

Theme of the Book

Combining the action of a thriller with emotional depth, White Birch Graffiti focuses on guilt, fear, and overweening ambition to tell a story of redemption.

What I Liked About the Story

One of the most moving scenes in the book takes place when Ted’s wife is killed. The killing itself is horrific, but it is the portrait of Ted’s reactions that is truly masterful. The reactions begin with horror and confusion. As a husband, Ted is shocked and horrified by what has happened while as a doctor, he is ready to check for vital signs that he knows will not be there. He feels guilt but the shock makes his mind wander to nonessentials: the weather, Thanksgiving dinner, a ring. While this is a very short scene in the book, it is one that stands out for its honesty, sensitivity, and understanding of the results of a traumatic shock.

Mr. Van Valer continues to explore emotional depths throughout the novel. This occurs not only with Ted, but with secondary characters Frank, the police detective who has his own history with Ted, and Hoss, one of the boys from camp. Both of these characters begin as antagonistic to Ted but undergo changes through the course of the novel and become near heroes in the end.

Even the two hitmen, Lewis and Mr. Gray, are complex characters. Mr. Van Valer is obviously not content with the stereotype of paid killers but gives these men their own motivations, feelings, and fears.

Although White Birch Graffiti is very different in tone and type from the first (The Light in the Trees), the logic of the story follows perfectly from that novel. Characters from the first appear in the second and have essentially remained the same, just as most people’s characters do not change from adolescence to adulthood.

The plot is full of action including shootings, car chases, arson, and stabbings, but none of this violence is overly graphic and none of it is gratuitous. The story moves at breakneck speed but never leaves the reader wondering what has happened. There are elements of political corruption, corporate power, and personal antagonism.

What I Didn’t Like About the Story

One difficulty with this novel is that readers who have not read The Light in the Trees may find the story confusing. Without knowledge of the origin of the characters and of the secret, the plot can appear to be without much basis. For this reason, I would strongly suggest that readers begin with the earlier book – a book I would highly recommend even if the second book hadn’t been written.

Second, I really didn’t like the cover. This may seem like a minor quibble, but many readers depend on the cover of a book for a general idea of the type of novel it is. This cover hints at more of a “Kill Bill” story full of sex and violence than the complex novel Mr. Van Valer has written.

Final Say

Although I didn’t like this book as much as the first, I still spent all of one day reading, only stopping to eat dinner. Mr. Van Valer is an accomplished writer with a fine ability to use language to not only tell a thrilling story but to explore the deeper feelings of his characters. Read The Light in the Trees first and then definitely read White Birch Graffiti.

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