Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Damage Done, by Hilary Davidson ($7.99)

This book won a lot of accolades and the Anthony Award for Best First Novel. It wasn't until three-fourths of the way through the book, however, that I was sold on it.

Travel journalist Lily Moore is called back from Spain to New York to identify her sister's body, found drowned in the bathtub of her apartment. It's more than upsetting when Lily finds that the body is of a stranger, a woman who had been pretending to be Claudia, her sister, for the last few months, including running up credit card bills in her name. Who is the woman and where is Claudia? Answering these two questions defines the rest of the book.

There are many other characters, some of them more unsavory than others, from Claudia and Lily's lives whom we meet as Lily searches for clues. My favorite is Jesse, Lily's gay photographer friend. He is sympathetic, has a moving family history, provides the right amount of support for Lily, and carries a gun but speaks softly. Lily's ex-boyfriend, a wealthy businessman, is plain creepy. Claudia's ex-boyfriend, another wealthy entrepreneur, is a little less creepy, but he's right up there.

The reason I had trouble getting into the book is that Lily is a hard person to like, and not because she had run far away and left her sister to her addictions (heroin, methadone, whatever). There was something so passive-aggressive about Lily and her relationships with people, including the aforementioned creepy boyfriend. Undoubtedly, there is something broken about Lily, too. Later a potential new boyfriend for Lily enters the picture, and I wanted to say, "Why? What do you see in her?"

Well, for starters, she apparently resembles Ava Gardner, the 1940s-50s screen godDESS. (I could hear the lush music from the "Laura"-type movies of that era playing in the background while I read this book.) And Claudia was no slouch either. Maybe that's enough to explain the romantic mayhem that follows both of them.

What the last fourth of the book provided was a sterling drawing together of all the pieces. Lily sloughs off her torpor/simmering rage/misdirected sentiments and gets down to it.

I felt that this book was written for a younger generation's sensibilities. There's a dark, sophisticated, vaguely louche quality to the characters, good and bad. The book begins from a point of view that I couldn't relate to immediately. There's an underlying set of unarticulated ground rules, a copy of which I didn't get in the mail. Why would I be more likely to apprehend Elmore Leonard's Raylan country than Davidson's New York? I think it's a question of human motivations. One set I get, the other I have to work at.

I rarely read the previews for the author's next book invariably stuck at the end of paperbacks, but I wanted to know if Lily's character would be carried forward. Indeed, the next book finds Lily and Jesse in South America. Now that concept makes me want to read it. Lily (and author Hilary Davidson) IS a travel writer. I miss Lyn Hamilton's travel mysteries, and while Davidson's writing is certainly darker, I welcome the opportunity to become an armchair traveler again.

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