Monday, December 24, 2007

Suspicious Origins

Back in the late 70s and early 80s I reviewed mysteries for the local paper. The editor asked me to cover the entire field from cozies to hard boiled. At first I wasn't sure I wanted to sort through any but the hardboiled stacks but gradually I found writers in every sub-category of crime fiction that I enjoyed and admired.

One of my most pleasant discoveries was Patricia MacDonald. Her first novel Unforgiven was not only a clever stalker tale but also an exemplary piece of writing. She had major stuff from the git-go.

This weekend I'm reading, for the second time, a recent novel of hers called Suspicious Origins. This deals with a woman who has a falling out with the older sister who raised her. The two haven't spoken in years. Then the older sister dies in a fire before they ever resolve their differences. The woman goes to the snowy New England town for the funeral where she meets, among many others, her sister's husband and the little niece she's been trading cards and letters with for years. On the night of the funeral, the fire chief tells her that what appeared to be an accidental fire was actually arson, intended to kill both the mother and the daughter. The husband was working late--midnight--at the time. Thus the mystery is set in place.

What makes the book remarkable is the writing. Nothing flashy or trendy. Just sound solid sentences that create a picture of a society and its people in quiet but vivid strokes. Deft, evocative passages that stay with you. And characters so richly drawn they only enhance the page-turning edge of the plot.

In the era of James Patterson and all his clones reading a novel so full of real everyday life and real everyday people in a Hitchcock-tight novel is a pleasure not to be taken lightly.

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