I thought this book was a total waste of time. So the first question of course, is why did I react that way? And next: why did I read it? A summary of the plot should provide you with an answer to the first question.
The protagonist is a 43-year-old divorced owner of an antiques shop who is named “Reven” or “never” spelled backwards (her parents “never” thought they would have her). She’s incredibly self-absorbed (although not as much as the other characters!) and not given to humility. This is how she describes herself in prep school:
“I was seductive, no question. But I was also very nice to everyone, which is why people like me. And to be honest, I was gorgeous – a Valkyrie among trolls.”
And her opinion of herself didn’t diminish much over the years.
The book is set in Washington, D.C. and involves the glitterati of the city: the very rich and powerful, who, it seems, are also very shallow, superficial, obsessed with protocol and popularity. (Now there’s a surprising plot twist!) In fact, there are only two appealing characters in the book, but both of these are “outsiders.”
As the story begins, Reven’s best friend Violet is thrilled to find that her obsession with serial killers is paying off by virtue of a new outbreak of murders in area parks. (Apparently it takes something out of the ordinary to interest the glitterati.) We learn about this fixation as we follow Reven and Violet around to concerts, dinners, parties, fashion fittings for the same, and other similar “quotidian” activities of movers and shakers. Attempts to sidetrack the reader from identifying the real killer are clumsy and obvious, and the killer’s confession speech is laughable. The dialogue in general lacks sophistication for all the would-be high achievements of the characters.
In sum, the characters aren’t likeable; the plot is inconsequential; the dialogue is trite, and the mystery is no mystery at all.
So why did I read it?
I enjoy mysteries set in cities I love; I like recognizing the streets and restaurants and haunts and traffic patterns. I was born in the D.C. area and love that city. My family is still there, and I have many good memories there. You never know when a scene in a book set in D.C. will resonate with your own experience.
Compare any book by George Pelecanos, who stories also take place in D.C. He can be harsh and coarse, but his characters are realistic and his plots are complex. And best of all, in one of his books, a police car was staked out in the very shopping center where I buried my parakeet Tweety and my goldfish Goldy! (Okay, so I wasn’t very original when it came to names.) (And as you can well imagine, I was freaking out: ARE THEY PARKING ON TWEETY AND GOLDY?!!!!) Those moments of serendipity can make a book worth reading. But in this case, there were few redeeming qualities.
Evaluation: If you’re looking for an intelligent mystery in which people are not who they seem to be, skip this one; there are plenty of better options on the market.
Published by Harper, 2009