So Much Pretty
Simon & Schuster
1230 Sixth Ave., NY, NY 10020
9781451616750 $25.00, www.simonandschuster.com
What at first blush appears to be a bucolic setting is soon discovered to be much less innocent than it first seems. Gene and Claire Piper have moved from their lives in New York City to the small western NY town of Haeden, an isolated, hardscrabble place close to Appalachia whose residents have a median income of less than $14,000 a year. Young and idealistic doctors, they have both put in their time [at 70 hours a week] in a Free Clinic in Manhattan and had planned on seeking assignments from Doctors Without Borders.
This debut novel from Cara Hoffman is different from almost anything I've read recently. It moves at almost a leisurely pace - until it doesn't, of course - and in non linear fashion. [Even the last portion of the book, when all has been made clear, jumps a bit back and forth by a few or several days at a time.] And until I looked back at the brief prologue, I hadn't remembered that had I not lost track of that single page, it had provided a foreshadowing of what is to follow. But no further hint of those events is found until many, many pages later. In the meantime, character studies and backstory is provided, in wonderful prose. But suddenly when and shortly after Wendy's fate becomes known, suddenly time seemed to stop as I kept reading and was then unable to to keep reading, that is and I nearly stopped breathing for a minute or two.
The major characters include Wendy White, a local 20 year old woman, who disappeared one night over five months ago, the presumption being that she had simply run away from her boring life; Alice Piper [Gene and Claire's daughter], a preternaturally bright and athletic high school student; and Stacy Flynn, a 29 year old reporter for the local paper who had left a job working as a journalist in Cleveland, Ohio searching for a big, important story on environmental issues she hoped to find in Haeden. As the old saw goes, 'be careful what you wish for.' What she finds are indeed those issues, as well as others dealing with the systemic and almost casual brutalization of women and the indifference of those who live in its midst. The watchword here presented is, as I believe was said by George Orwell, that "the responsibility of every intelligent person is to pay attention to the obvious," even, or especially, when doing so "becomes a horror." A powerful book, one that will stay with me, and one that is recommended.
c/o St. Martin's Press
175 Fifth Ave., NY, NY 10010
9780425240588 $7.99, www.minotaurbooks.com
The first page of the newest book by Steve Hamilton, which brings the welcome return of Alex McKnight, describes a scene wherein the body of a young man is found hanging from a tree branch at the edge of a bay in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. For those new to the series, McKnight is a former Detroit cop and current holder of a p.i. license, although he protests that he 'doesn't do that anymore': He owns and rents out cabins to 'the snowmobile people' in season.
Three months after that first page event takes place, McKnight is approached by Roy Maven, Chief of Police in "the Soo" [Sault St. Marie], who asks for his help. This from a man whose relationship with McKnight could at best be described as 'fraught' - as the Chief says, 'just call it a persistent lack of liking each other." The dead boy's father had been Maven's partner on the police force, and Maven wants McKnight to investigate the circumstances that could have led to...