What Really Happened to Steve Nathan

Fiction - Mystery - General
324 Pages
Reviewed on 03/25/2018
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Deborah Lloyd for Readers' Favorite

Lindsey Casselton was cleaning out her mother’s house when she found a photograph that changed her life. Her father had died, and her mother, suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s Disease, lived in a facility. The photograph was dated nine months before Lindsey’s birth – and her mother was with a man she had never known. Across the country, Nathan Huong, of American and Vietnamese heritage, lived with his sometimes-reticent mother, Mai. She would not talk about Nate’s father. Steve Nathan, who reportedly died at the end of the Vietnam war, is the common link between these two main characters. What Really Happened to Steve Nathan, written by Mary Marchese, presents an intriguing story. Discovering what happened to their shared father drives both of them to visit Vietnam. Detailing the effects of the war on its people, the beautiful landscape, and its interesting culture and food are just a few of the highlights of this intriguing mystery novel.

This story engages the reader from the first page to the last. The author is a highly skilled writer as she interweaves the separate paths of Lindsey and Nate who live on opposite sides of the country. She uses the technique of alternating chapters from each one’s journey, and it is always clear to the reader which one is telling his/her story. Adding the family members from Mai’s family in Vietnam brings insight into the complicated lives of the Vietnamese. Like creating a patchwork quilt, author Mary Marchese has joined many aspects of a complex period in America and Vietnam in her unforgettable novel, What Really Happened to Steve Nathan. This book is both informational and emotional – an excellent read!

Viga Boland

While the opening chapter of What Really Happened to Steve Nathan by Mary Marchese will grab you as a good mystery should, you might find yourself a tad disappointed as the pace begins to slow down noticeably in subsequent chapters. But don’t be fooled into thinking this story isn’t going to live up to the excitement promised in the description. It most certainly does, in more ways than one, and, better yet, you will come away satisfied by a story that not only intrigues but enlightens…exactly as good fiction should.

On one side of the US, as Lindsey Casselton sorts through her mother’s belongings, she discovers a photo of her mother with a man she doesn’t recognize. This man is not the father who raised her. Since her mother suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s, she cannot shed any light on this mystery man, but putting two and two together, Lindsey concludes that this man, Steve Nathan, as she learns, could just be her birth father. But why wasn’t she raised by him and where is he now? On the other side of the country, Nate Huong launches a successful Vietnamese restaurant with his mother, Mai. As he travels back and forth to Vietnam to expand his knowledge of Vietnamese rice, coffee and other culinary delights, he becomes aware that he is the love child of Mai and an American CIA operative, Steve Nathan. But whatever became of Steve Nathan? Just like Lindsey, but for different reasons, he cannot get the answers he needs from his mother. How can this have happened? What the reader knows, and neither Nate nor Lindsey knows, is they each have the startling green eyes that Steve Nathan had. How can this have happened?

Switching back and forth between Lindsey and Nate, Mary Marchese unravels the mystery surrounding What Really Happened to Steve Nathan and it’s a convoluted tale. As it unfolds, readers will enjoy some romance in the lives of both protagonists, along with a fascinating insight into life in Vietnam, complete with its noises, smells and food. If they are not familiar with what atrocities went on during the Vietnam war, and why so many Americans wish they had never been involved, readers will learn about that too. In short, the historical, geographical and cultural information in this novel is as interesting as the mystery of What Really Happened to Steve Nathan is. And don’t be at all surprised if you come away keen to taste authentic Vietnamese coffee. I certainly did!

Lit Amri

Lindsey Casselton's mother was suffering from dementia. While cleaning her mother’s house, Lindsey found an old Polaroid photo of her mother in the arms of a tall, blond stranger who was no doubt her biological father. Meanwhile, Nate Huong had a challenging life, due to prejudice against his Vietnamese mother and his late Caucasian father, whom he doesn’t know about much. These two half siblings are about to find each other and discover more about their father, the mysterious Steve Nathan.

What Really Happened To Steve Nathan by Mary Marchese is engaging from the start. The plot is well-structured and I gravitated instantly to Lindsey, especially when she realized the reason her adoptive father-who died of a sudden heart attack two years prior-treated her differently compared to her younger brother. Even though I was ambivalent about the different types of POV for the protagonists, the prose is clear-cut and the reading is flawless. Unlike Lindsey’s story, it took some time for me to relate to Nate’s story and his persona. Nevertheless, I gradually warmed up to him, particularly his petite but strong-willed mother.

With the history of the Vietnam War as a compelling background, Lindsey and Nate embarked on the journey of rediscovering their identity through a father who was never there for them. Their journey provoked questions and provided answers that were sometimes difficult to process, while meeting interesting people along the way. Antagonism and tragedy are inevitable, though. A character named Tran did something unpredictable in Part 3 which makes the story more gripping. Overall, What Really Happened To Steve Nathan is a solid read, a commendable work from Mary Marchese.

Kathryn Bennett

What Really Happened to Steve Nathan by Mary Marchese introduces you to two half siblings who meet for the first time in Vietnam as they look into the truth of the common thread they share, their father. Steven Nathan died near the end of the Vietnam War under mysterious circumstances. Lindsey, who is going through her mother's things, has questions about a stranger in a photo she finds, but the father she grew up with is dead and her mother suffers from Alzheimer's. Nate, who owns a restaurant where his mother is the head chef, learns that his father was a CIA operative who was last seen in a village in Vietnam. After meeting by chance, the pair of half siblings ends up going on a journey to find out the truth.

I love a good mystery and I have to say that I have never read one with a setting in Vietnam and that was the hook I needed to read this book. I am so glad that hook worked on me because this book is fantastic. It is well written and engaging, a story that really has a cast of characters that are fleshed out and can be pictured as real people. The only thing that was a little bit hard for me to read is how the chapters were split, alternating perspectives depending on if it was from Nate or Lindsey's point of view. However, this is a minor issue because the characters themselves and the story as it unfolded were just so well written.

Some of the descriptions in this book are so vivid they came off the page and it was almost like watching a movie instead of reading a book. To me that is one of the best things about a well written story. I don't want to give away any of the major plot points of this book, but it really is an interesting read. It is also an observation on how people cope with situations such as finding out you have a half sibling and the mystery of how your father died. Mary Marchese certainly has a knack for telling a great story and I look forward to reading more from her.

Trudi LoPreto

What Really Happened to Steve Nathan is exactly what the description says it is, but what it doesn’t say is how well written the book is. I was caught up in the story immediately. Lindsey’s world changes in a second after finding out that the man she always thought of as her father wasn’t her dad. Nate unexpectedly learns more about his father, a CIA operative during the Vietnam War. As both Nate and Lindsey search for the truth, their paths cross and they quickly realize that they are both children of Steve Nathan. Each chapter rotates between the two and vividly points out the feelings and emotions of both Lindsey and Nate in great detail. Both travel to Vietnam to learn the truth and find many secrets and surprises along the way.

I was intrigued by the in-depth telling of the beauty, the food and the way of life about Vietnam that was so well written by Mary Marchese, and the fact that the Vietnam War there is referred to as the "American War." What Really Happened to Steve Nathan has mystery, drama, love and is a must-read as you will not be disappointed. It is hard to believe that this is the first novel written by Mary Marchese as it has all of the components of a long time, well established writer. I do not want to spoil the plot or the mystery and will only say that What Really Happened to Steve Nathan is a sure winner. I urge all readers to put this book at the top of their reading list.