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Jun
20
2024
Literary Arts

“Wheat Penny” by local author Scott Geisel is available at Dark Star Books in Comics and Epic Books in Yellow Springs. (Submitted photo)

Book review | Local complexities in Geisel’s ‘Wheat Penny’

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It’s hard to believe that longtime villager Scott Geisel is back already with another Jackson Flint mystery — the third, “Wheat Penny,” set mostly in and around Yellow Springs.

The first two novels were such gifts to the community, especially the first, “Fair Game,” appearing at the height of the pandemic when we needed something to celebrate — with the Glen, the Emporium and so many favorite hangouts, and the activities they engendered, closed. Geisel’s charming, witty use of local landmarks is only a part of the fun. He gives a lot of thought to plot and characters, too.

By now, readers may be quite familiar with Flint’s sidekicks: ex-Marine Darnell “Brick” Brickman and J’Leah Dawkins, a young vet Brick has helped transition to post-military life. Both play crucial roles in the current story. When Jackson is employed to test the security of a mysterious local business, in both real-world and online sites, strange and dangerous things happen, involving, eventually, the FBI. Just as I admired the weighty racial-historical theme of the last book, “Water That Binds,” here I admire Geisel’s mastery of technology.

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Although Flint has to dodge a few bullets, it’s mainly cyber-shenanigans fueling this plot. He calls upon J’Leah’s impressive digital powers, with backup from Brick for the more — ahem — personal confrontations. Twists, thrills and the usual humor abound. Jackson’s tiny office with its backward door is the catalyst for many giggles involving the two FBI interviewers I found refreshingly nonstereotypical.

Speaking of characters, the author has spent quite a bit of time in the past two novels developing the complex relationships among widower Jackson, his teenage daughter, Cali, and Jackson’s sort-of girlfriend, Marzi, formerly their grief counselor. “Wheat Penny” raises the domestic stakes considerably. Before the book is over, our hero faces a real vocational-emotional-parental crisis. That, alongside the cyber-mystery, makes for fast page-turning.

The intriguing title concerns both the Dayton restaurant of the same name and a real penny. “The title’s a metaphor,” Geisel told me in Tom’s Market, after announcing the book’s publication. It is indeed, and I will leave it to readers to unpack the metaphor’s significance — and enjoy the reappearance of Quando, the street kid Brick took into his home in the last book, whose presence prompts the title’s metaphor.

“Wheat Penny” has something for everyone, but I believe techno types will especially appreciate the plot intricacies. For me, the greatest interest lay in Jackson’s domestic conflict. I hope Geisel will continue to expand his scope, as he does here with cutting-edge technology.

“Wheat Penny” is available locally in Yellow Springs at both Dark Star Books and Comics and Epic Books. You can find out more about Geisel and his books at scottgeisel.weebly.com.

*Ed Davis is a novelist, poet and educator living in Yellow Springs.

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