MISFORTUNE
Nancy Geary


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Warner Books, 2001
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Contemporary Mystery

MISFORTUNE opens with a triumph of evil at the country club. Clio Pratt creates heartburning among the membership committee of Fair Lawn Country Club, with her threat of blackballing a long time member. Accepting Louise would mean accepting her black husband. Many members of the small upper class enclave in Southampton feel that the wealth of prominent surgeon Henry Lewis qualifies him for membership, in spite of his skin; but Clio’s social charms and rancorous determination have forced the kind of unpleasantness this exclusive community tries to avoid.

Gradually widening our focus, we meet the other characters of MISFORTUNE. Clio’s stepdaughter Frances has disconnected herself from Southampton and all other close ties. Frances’s sister Blair and brother-in-law Jack have been feathering their nest so freely that they are about to be swallowed up financially. Their father Richard Pratt is dying slowly in a wheelchair in his luxurious house. Their true mother Aurelia Watson paints capriciously not far away, in Southampton but not of it. Their associates include Miles Adler, Richard’s business partner who is being squeezed out by Clio from the business into which he has put so much; and former family friend Beverly Winters, who learns that Clio has renewed her backstabbing regarding the death of Beverly’s husband. All these and other characters, their hidden wounds, and the lush façade of the country club environment are written with the eye of familiarity, sharp observation and understanding.

The suspense starts early, as we wonder who will have the privilege of killing Clio. Obviously it would be a service to the world. Clio is a more sophisticated version of Robert Barnard’s one-dimensional evil victims. It is not only her lifestyle that is more sophisticated: Clio is written with more scope and believability. Clio’s secrets are among the last to come out, but she has a very interesting background, almost worth the price of the read in itself. With fine pacing the author pulls away the curtain that gives such a safe and sweet look to the lives of all of Fair Lawn’s members. Our final view is ruthless and healing.

Nancy Geary has created a complicated set of motivations for her people, not just for killing Clio but for why they live as they do. It is clear she has put a great deal of thought into them, and in almost all cases she succeeds impressively. The single exception among the important characters, I felt, was the murderer his/herself. I wanted a stronger foundation for such an act, a personality that could find murder to be a solution, and I didn’t feel that was present.

Nancy Geary is yet another attorney turned writer, and this is her first novel. She appears to take to it naturally, with bright visuals and a story which pulls the reader in. Geary is writing about what she knows. Her main character is an attorney, and according to the book jacket, she is familiar with this exclusive, blue-blooded world. She seems to feel strongly about the issue of false appearances and about hiding from contact with the rest of humanity, but she contents herself portraying them without outright condemnation. Readers who love to read about the life of luxury should make a special point of finding this book, and for the general reader it will be an enjoyable experience.

Aug 2001 Review Originally Published on the Independent Reviews Site

 

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