Trace by Sam Starbuck

Colin Byrne never thought he’d go back to Railburg State Correctional Facility.  He’d kept his nose clean since his early release, setting himself up as a private detective.  But when Joseph, the cop who put him away and then saved him calls in a favor, he finds himself heading back to prison undercover to help break up a money-laundering ring.  Colin might also be looking for a little revenge himself, but once the prison doors have closed behind him, he finds himself and his fellow inmates in the crossfire of a war that’s bigger than them all.

Trace is a masterpiece of magical realism, a tricky genre to write in to say the least.  I fell in love with this book particularly for the depth of its characters and the genuine relationships between them.  Starbuck draws the reader into push-and-pull web of the prison system, but makes us understand that Colin’s connection to his group is something more genuine than that.  He sees himself as a free agent, doing things on his own terms, but he’s really very protective of the people close to him, and is willing to stick his neck out for them.  Nowhere is this more evident than in his relationship with Joseph, and to a lesser extent Analise (who we don’t see enough of in this book).  Their three-way relationship gives Colin his anchor, a place to draw strength from in the darkness that too often clouds his life.  I loved the genuine care they both showed for him.

Surprisingly, though, the interactions that touched me the most were between Colin and Noel.  There was a deep, quiet loyalty and unspoken trust between them that really touched me.  The way he embraced his penance for his former life made Noel one of my favorite characters overall.

The mythlogy of the world was another very powerful element to the story.  This is the kind of book that rewards multiple readings- you will uncover a different layer of meaning every time.  The symbolism woven through the plot gives the story real weight.  I ended up reading it once through for the “what happens next”, and then twice more to really absorb all the things going on in the background.

My only real concerns have to do with the book’s publication.  At the moment, Trace is only available as a paperback or an e-pub file from, leaving Kindle readers out in the cold.  It’s certainly worth the extra effort to get a copy, but I’m concerned that this story won’t get the readership it deserves without a listing on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  Also, the Afterword should be cut completely, in my opinion.  While it can be interesting to see how a story evolved into its final form, in this case I’m afraid it will take away from the magic of the story for many readers.  This book deserves to be judged on its considerable merits, without prejudice.

I highly recommend this book to any fans of fantasy and magical realism.  You won’t be disappointed!


Title:  Trace

Author:  Sam Starbuck

Genre:  Magical Realism

Publication:  Candlemark & Gleam, November 5th, 2011

Price: $3.00 (e-book, epub only), $12.00 (paperback)

Author’s Website:


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