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Reviews: Crime Fiction

Redemption by Nancy Geary
Warner Books Hardback
ISBN 0-446-52754-8 $23.95 US

Marcel D'Agneau review

They always say that one should read the label before quaffing the wine and with Redemption by Nancy Geary (author of Misfortune), you are forewarned. This is her second mystery novel and again stars Frances Pratt , a seasoned criminal investigator, not unlike Ms Geary herself, the former prosecutor for the Criminal Bureau of Massachusetts’s Attorney General’s Office. Now she too has turned to a life of crime.

In reading Redemption one suspects that at some time in Ms Geary’s life she was forced to spend a period in bed under the weather and watched every episode of ‘Days of Our Lives’. The dialogue, heavy sighs, imperial airs and sexual deviousness that are the hallmark of every episode is riven throughout Redemption. The wealthy bluebloods of Manchester-by-the-sea seem caricatures of real rich people, faded wealth or not. It is a world of vast homes, yachts, private beaches, traditions and family secrets. The kids always go to Harvard or Bennington and all cling to a facade of civilised standards, usually turning a blind eye to the amoral behaviour of their peers. This is pretty much a world over thing and every yacht or golf club follow the same rules of ‘decorum’. The rich are easy pickings for a crime writer; there is always something nasty hiding in the closet.

In setting the scene for the eventual murder of one Hope Lawrence, just an hour before she was due to be married to handsome Jack Cabot; son of the wealthy Jim Cabot from one of the oldest and most respected families on the coast; she is found hanging by her neck in a closet, most definitely dead. A terrible suicide.
Prior to this, we are introduced to a whole host of people who resent or might want this pale bulimic, intensely neurotic, wafer thin pretty blonde not to marry handsome lovesick Jack. Her preferences for wild sex with her former lobsterman boyfriend one moment and guilt purges the next certainly mark her out for death quite early on in the novel. Jack is under pressure from his father to get a pre-nuptial agreement signed, the lobsterman doesn’t want her to marry Jack and won’t accept $10,000 to go away from her father. And then there is Hope’s obsession with the church, Father Whitney and all its rituals. She is a complex young woman with a past. Not the kind of girl who’d normally lands a straightlaced rich boy like Jack, but rather abnormally he loves her more than money itself.

There is torment in wading through the first 100 pages, thick as treacle with extensive character monologues, expositions and pre-wedding rituals. They reaffirm that we are indeed among the rich but do finally give way to something more like a crime novel. The unfortunate Hope, rather unsurprisingly is discovered not to have committed suicide. A diamond engagement ring is missing and the autopsy reveals she was strangled before she was hung.

Enter Miss Marple (Miss Frances Pratt). By chance a relation and an important wedding guest, she begins an investigation.

Admittedly, the novel really picks up once the investigation of the murder begins. Nancy Geary comes into her own with her extensive criminal knowledge and procedures. As a writer she has adopted a stance between ‘Murder She Wrote’ and Tom Wolfe’s ‘Bonfire of Vanities’ with none of the formers humour or latter’s style or finesse. Some dialogue is often awkward –possibly reflective of the situation she is in as an investigator of a family that does not want to reveal its secrets. The mixed pudding of sexual abuse, hatred, lust, guilt, money, sibling rivalry and impending nuptials are just too much, even for an episode for ‘Days of Our Lives’. The introduction of helpful local cops such as Elvis Mallory, who helpfully is married to the female medical examiner and the odd character with names like Percy Lukewarm perhaps are meant to be humorous but tend to distract.
Frances Pratt meets little resistance to her probing and has perhaps too much co-operation from the police, witnesses and aunt and uncles who perhaps in the real world would cling a little tighter to their dreadful secrets.
It is likely the East Coast rich are better catalogued by the likes of Gore Vidal or Richard Ford. Redemption does pick up pace as it goes along and you do want to know what happened to the spoiled young Hope. Her endless misfortune certainly denied her happiness from an early age but the elaborate and dramatic end of her life was perhaps too well embroidered. The eventual criminal could, one feels, have chosen a less public and dramatic way to deal with Hope.

Clearly Frances Pratt will be making another appearance in the future, once senses there will always be another body floating in a rich man’s pool to be investigated.
You can read more about Nancy Geary on her own website

© Marcel D’Agneau June 2003

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