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

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Current by Tim Johnston

Algonquin Books, 416 pages, $27.95

“The Current” poses a lot of questions. Whether Tim Johnston answers them depends on what his readers will discern from his words.

Audrey Sutter is the nineteen-year-old daughter of a man dying of cancer. She leaves college to travel back to her home in Minnesota to see him, maybe for the last time. Although they did not get along initially, Audrey has become fast friends with Caroline, her original roommate in the dorm. They parted ways right away but then the vagaries of fate entwined them once again, only this time the bond was not based on shared accommodation but on shared interests and a deep liking. So Caroline offers to drive Audrey home, far from their college and far from her hometown in Georgia. It’s winter, there’s snow and ice, and it’s a preposterous journey for two young girls to be doing on the spur of the moment.

There is an incident at a gas station and the girls speed away in Caroline’s car. The car crashes down an embankment and spins out onto an ice-encrusted river. Johnston writes one of the most thrilling and haunting scenes of the two girls suspended on top of the possibly very fragile ice. The next time Audrey makes an appearance is in a hospital.

Audrey is not just any girl. Her father is the ex-sheriff of her hometown. After her mother died when Audrey was very young, her father became everything to her. She hero worshipped him and he never let her down. To have him so vulnerable when he was so strong, to have him worrying over her when it should be the other way around is painful to Audrey. And the fact that Audrey believes someone purposely bumped Caroline’s vehicle onto the river adds to his frustration and her despair. Can he protect his little "deputy"? Can she protect her dad? Tim Johnston spends the whole book finding out if they rise to the task.

It’s more than just what happened to Audrey. Ten years earlier, another girl fell into the same river. She wasn’t as lucky as Audrey and she drowned. Holly Burke was about the same age as Audrey when she died. Before Holly drowned, she had been hit by a car. She had been murdered, but Audrey’s father, who was sheriff at the time, could not find enough evidence to arrest anyone. 

Danny Young had known Holly Burke from childhood because their fathers were partners in a plumbing supply store. After Holly’s body was found, people suspected Danny of having something to do with it. He and Holly had been in the same bar, he had left soon after Holly, and he had been drunk. Because that was pretty much all the information that existed, Danny was never charged with anything, although, by gum, the sheriff interrogated him intensely. Not long after, Danny left town and had been wandering the country from job to job. His mother and twin brother, Marky, were left behind, heartbroken.

Then one day Danny returns. With his return arise the old questions that were never answered satisfactorily. There are still murmurs in the town about his guilt. One of the people who has never forgiven Danny is Holly’s father, Gordon. The fact that Gordon had been an old family friend and close to Danny’s mother has caused him distress over the years, but he never repaired that bridge. And now that Danny was making one of his infrequent appearances in town the old issues are raised again.

What did Sheriff Sutter know back then about Danny and Holly? What does he know now about Audrey’s trauma? He’s a sick man but he never lost the resolve to correct old wrongs. Audrey wants to acknowledge a similar courage in herself when she inadvertently comes across information that could either finally condemn Danny or exonerate him.

I’ve danced around some of the story’s plotlines because it’s so satisfying to watch author Johnston introduce them, spin them, and finely draw them. He also adds in certain spiritual, for lack of a better word, elements. Some of the characters “know” things or “see” things, without knowing or seeing them in reality. Marky is especially interesting. He is Danny’s twin but has suffered from a slowness and “otherness” from birth. Danny and his mother tried their best to buffer him from the world. After Danny left, Danny’s friend Jeff stepped up a little. Marky is still loved and protected. And Marky knows things, feels badness and goodness, knows death before anyone else. After Audrey recovers a little, she, too, feels certain things, is haunted and comforted by thoughts of young women drowning in the river. Johnston doesn’t really step over the line into woo-woo. His take on it is poetic and underlies the empathic feelings of Marky and Audrey.

Johnston is a good writer. He evokes the winter in Minnesota, the tenderness of death, and the vulnerabilities of his main characters so well. I’m going to quote something from his book. It’s not the best thing he wrote -- those would be spoilers --  but it speaks to how true his writing is:

The first time it snowed it made you happy, it made you think of being a kid and sledding and making snowmen, and Christmas and sometimes after that the snow would turn everything white and pretty again, but now the snow was just snow and the winter went on and the spring would never come.

Now that’s what I’m talking about. MBTB star!

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Liar’s Girl by Catherine Ryan Howard

Blackstone Publishing, 336 pages, $24.99 (c2018)

What would you do if your boyfriend turned out to be a serial killer? That’s the question that underlies Catherine Ryan Howard’s book. Because Howard seems to effortlessly make Alison Smith real and sympathetic, it’s easy to slip into the book and watch Alison’s struggles.

Young Alison and her best friend from forever, Liz, are ecstatic when they both get into college in Dublin, Ireland. They are smaller town girls from Cork and they are looking forward to being independent. Alison meets Will Hurley pretty much right off the bat. They begin an intense but mutually supportive affair. No weird, debasing stuff here. Alison’s roommate is a bit of all right. Liz’s roommate is weird but avoidable. The bars are hopping with other young people. Times are good. So far, standard stuff. 

Then the killings begin. At first, it appears that a young woman, after a night out drinking, stumbled, fell into one of the large canals that run through Dublin, and drowned. For the most part there are no barriers to the canal waters which rise almost up to the road, so that was not hard to imagine. When a few more young women turn up drowned under the same scenario, the police begin looking for a serial killer.

The victims were all students at the college. The scrutiny becomes personal when someone Alison and Will know becomes a victim. Soon Will is taken into custody. Soon Will confesses. Soon Will is sentenced to five life terms in prison. Soon Alison flees to the Netherlands, where she is living and working when the current story opens up ten years later.

There is that clichéd knock on the door of Alison’s house in the Netherlands. Two Irish gardaí are standing there, wanting to take Alison back to Dublin to talk to Will. She has successfully — for the most part — sublimated the events of ten years ago. Why would she voluntarily go back to Dublin just to meet with someone she never wants to think about or see again? But of course she does. And that’s because the killings have started up again.

This bare bones recital of Howard’s book doesn’t do her writing justice. Under her pen, the prickly relationship between Alison and Liz and the sweet one between Alison and Will are well rendered. Then as the plot proceeds, Howard builds the drama well, introduces a third-person look at the killer, lightly involves the clichéd good garda/bad garda — because, well, it’s Alison gathering clues — and satisfyingly brings the curtain down. The best part is about Alison finally having the strength to face Will, something she could not do at the time he was caught. By escaping to the Netherlands, she put reconciling herself to the events of that time and her personal growth on hold. It’s time to let go and grow up, Alison.

This book has been nominated for the 2019 Edgar Award for Best Novel.

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Celadon Books, 336 pages, $26.99

Has the market finally become saturated with books with unreliable narrators and twisted endings? Since “Gone Girl” made such a tremendous splash in both the book and movie markets, there have been read-a-likes galore. “The Silent Patient” is one. In my defense, I’m not spilling too many beans with that statement. The narrator, Theo Faber, is a forty-two year old psychotherapist, and it is obvious from the start that he has some deep issue himself, so it shouldn’t be surprising that there is an “unreliable” nature to what he says. In Theo’s words:

We are drawn to this profession because we are damaged — we study psychology to heal ourselves.

and

It’s odd how quickly one adapts to the strange new world of a psychiatric unit. You become increasingly comfortable with madness — and not just the madness of others, but your own. We’re all crazy, I believe, just in different ways.

At the center of the book is the story of Alicia Berenson. While in her early thirties, she was convicted of murdering her husband, Gabriel. Six years later, Theo begins to treat her as a patient in the psychiatric facility where she lives. Since the police discovered her standing over her husband, she has not uttered a word. Furthermore, she has tried to kill herself several times. And she has attacked people. Her actions, as most people conclude, condemn her. But not Theo. He is determined to get her talking, to relieve her of the burden of whatever happened the night her husband died, to “find her.”

Theo should be more worried about his own life. As he becomes more obsessed with Alicia’s case, he seems to be helpless to put his own marriage back together with his wife Kathy, an actress. As firm and directed as Theo seems in his professional life, he staggers and waffles in his personal one.

Both stories rush to an ending in which everything will be revealed, but not until the story’s final breath. Is your adrenaline spiking as you read the last few pages? Then Alex Michaelides’ work is done.

I cannot award this book a star because while this type of thriller is still compelling, mostly I’m over being tricked. My “gullible bone” is nearly numb. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

Flatiron Books, 352 pages, $27.99

“A Stockman’s Grave” should be an alternate title, because the activities in “The Lost Man” revolves around both the grave and the metaphor it becomes for Jane Harper’s central mystery. Here is her description of where the grave is located — if you haven’t read Harper’s other books, see if you can guess where her story is located:

[T]he landmark was known to locals — all sixty-five of them, plus one hundred thousand head of cattle — simply as the stockman’s grave.
….
Months, up to a year, even, could slip away without a single visitor passing by, let alone stopping to read the faded inscription or squint west into the afternoon sun. Even the cattle didn’t linger. The ground was typically sandy and sparse for eleven months of the year and hidden under murky floodwater for the rest. … So the grave stood mostly alone, next to a thin, three-wire cattle fence. The fence stretched a dozen kilometers east to a road and a few hundred west to the desert, where the horizon was so flat it seemed possible to detect the curvature of the earth. It was a land of mirages, where the few tiny trees in the far distance shimmered and floated on non-existent lakes.


Did you guess the outback of Australia? Congratulations if you did. Jane Harper evokes the aridity and loneliness and alone-ness of that area so very, very well. Lightly littered with words like “g’day,” “mate,” and “jackaroo,” the book’s language seems natural, not clichéd. Echoing one of the central elements of her first novel, “The Dry,” Harper gives us a parched and dangerous environment in which it seems remarkable that anyone has managed to live.

It should be no surprise that the person whose dead body immediately appears in “The Lost Man” died from exposure. Cameron Bright, a rancher with a wife and two young daughters, is found about five and a half miles from his vehicle, still on his ranch but in the middle of nowhere. He didn’t last long in the heat of the sun.

Harper describes the fascinating contents of outback vehicles: water, water, water, food, a working radio, air conditioning, a cooler, extra tires, more water, tools. The environment is not your friend, mate. And survival is serious business. Harper also describes the vital nature of stocking adequate household supplies, too, since many homes could become isolated for weeks by floodwaters. Everything needs forethought.

Communication is also vital. If you live alone on a ranch, you need someone to know you’re alive, or still alive. Cameron’s brother, Nathan, lives next door. Next door in this case means a three-hour drive away. He has chosen to live alone after his wife left him, taking their young son with her. Even his beloved dog recently left him, the victim of poisoning, Nathan believes. And so Nathan has existed with little human company for ten years, during the last six of which he has not gone much into the small town of Balamara because of an incident, eventually described by Harper. Nathan also seldom visits Cameron and Ilse and their two daughters. Liz and Bub, Nathan’s mother and brother, live with Cam and co-manage the ranch. Nathan’s family has insisted on installing a pair of buttons, one of which Nathan must press each day: “okay” or “not okay.”

As the story opens, Nathan is being visited by his now sixteen-year-old son, Xander, on a Christmas break. Nathan’s relationship with his ex is fraught and pricked by that incident that occurred six years earlier and resulted in the town shunning Nathan. Together they drive to where Cameron’s body was found, at the stockman’s grave.

Throughout the book, Harper gives us one version after another of the story behind the stockman’s grave, including how the ghostly remains of the stockman haunt the land and cause havoc. Certainly one of Cam’s young daughters seems haunted by that story. As a young man Cam painted a picture of the grave and the surrounding land. It won an award and acclaim, but it came to naught, as Cam settled down to manage the ranch and gave up painting. In real life and in Cam’s picture, there is a mysterious element to the stockman’s grave, a conjuring of the isolation of the land and the natural silence. But does the marker represent something more malevolent, as well?

Nathan is our hero, assisted by his young son. Their relationship is a tentative one, since Xander doesn’t see Nathan much. But there is a yearning to know each other, to overcome whatever difficulties caused their separation. Harper presents their vulnerabilities very touchingly. Both Nathan and Xander are convinced beyond what reason would tell them that Cameron did not meet his death by suicide, the official cause of death.

Jane Harper paces her story so well. This is not a “thriller,” but it is a page-turner, if only so the characters and the environment’s lure can be better comprehended. Seeing Harper’s resolution of what turns out to be many storylines is like watching a stone drop and following the ripples out and out.

This is a champion of a book. MBTB star!

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Evil Things by Katja Ivar

Bitter Lemon Press, 304 pages, $14.95

Thank goodness for places like Iceland and Lapland! They make provocative settings for crime novels. Somehow it spurs the creative mind when a crime is placed somewhere cold and dark for a lot of the year. Claustrophobia, snow madness, icy veins, dark thoughts seem to flow naturally from this source. Indeed, Katja Ivar has used this environment to great advantage.

“Evil Things” is set in Finland in 1952. The psychological and physical remnants of WWII have not been totally dismissed. Finland shares an extensive border with the USSR, already on the other side of an intensifying Cold War.  This makes a great background for disgraced police officer Hella Mauzer, relegated to Ivalo in Lapland, for her sins committed in Helsinki. For her continuing sins, Hella is assigned to investigate a missing person in the tiny community of Käärmela, scant miles from the Soviet border.

It is about the time when the night is about to claim the day, when the snows will banish all color from the land, when one either loves “cozy” quarters or goes mad from “claustrophic” ones. Hella’s bosses would rather she binned a letter written by Irja Walteri, the village priest’s young wife in Käärmela, about the missing Erno Jokinen. Instead, Hella packs her backpack and accepts a ride from a would-be suitor, the unsuitable Kukoyakka, to the remote village.

Soon Hella learns that Erno has left a grandson, Kalle, currently being taken care of by Irja. It was only by luck that Kalle was found by a disagreeable relative and kept from starving. Although Hella is sympathetic to Kalle’s dilemma, she has no great social graces and as a police officer must assume everyone is a suspect or is hiding something, so she stomps her way around the village interviewing the people, including the disagreeable relative and a disagreeable neighbor. Of course her hosts, the priest, Father Timo, and the lovely and hospitable Irja, are also subjected to brusque questioning.

When a body, or pieces thereof, is discovered, it turns out to be that of a woman. Where’s Erno? Why does the woman’s head, one of the pieces found, have a bullet wound in it? There are deeper things afoot than just an old man missing in the Lapland woods.

As Hella tromps around the bleak landscape, she has time to muse about what brought her to this low point in her life and career. She lost a post in Helsinki about which she could have been passionate, she lost a lover about whom she was passionate, she lost her whole family in a tragedy. As author Ivar recounts Hella’s musings, these stories gradually emerge into the light. What results is a story of Hella’s courage and humanity, both of which are tested as she tries to bring justice to the little Lapland community.

This is a book whose true grit is not revealed until the end. It seems to meander and fall short of the mark, but Ivar draws everything in at the end. The end is cheer-worthy.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Break Line by James Brabazon

Berkley, 368 pages, $26.99

“Coming soon to a theater near you.” I kept thinking that as I read “The Break Line.” It wasn’t surprising to read at the end under the bio that the author had ties to filmmaking. I admit to liking bang-bang, $$$$$, uber-FX movies, and this is a movie I would see. But as a book … 

James Brabazon, according to his bio, has been in some of the world’s most hostile environments as a journalist and filmmaker. He has brought his knowledge of hostile African countries and authorities to his story.

Max McLean is an assassin for the UK. His unit is listed as UNK for “Unknown.” He has no official ties, titles, or boss. He can be commandeered by several organizations. He aims to kill his target cleanly, with no collateral damage. Max is good.

What created the Max McLean capable of holding such a soulless job? While Max was still young, his father died in a plane crash and his mother took her own life after hearing that. Orphan Max joined an elite military school. And that’s how assassin Max was born.

In the world of spycraft, one of drifting loyalties and conflicting goals, Max prides himself on doing his job without heavy analysis of the big picture. However, the job Max has when the story opens has him questioning whether the woman he is to kill is who his superiors say she is. There’s a long slippery, bullet-riddled road that flows from that simple thought in Venezuela.

After that debacle in South America, Max is offered a job — to reward him for his perspicacity or to punish him for his rebellion, he doesn’t know — in Africa. He must kill an old white man who appears to be heading some nefarious organization creating something really dangerous to the world. Vague enough for ya, Max? 

But first, visit an old buddy of yours who was in that same area, Sierra Leone, to which you will be going and ask him for advice. Just so you know, he’s a little strange now and might be off his rocker, this “six foot six and two hundred and fifty pounds of soft-spoken, stone-cold killer.” Indeed, “Sonny Boy” was a good friend, so why does he try to kill Max when they meet in the secure facility where Sonny is being held?

Up to halfway in the book there’s a lot of sniper and equipment talk. Meters, lens coverings, extra magazines, etc., etc., etc. take up space and I quite enjoyed it. Then Brabazon segues into the “blockbuster” aspect of the book. Is Bruce Willis too old to play a man in his thirties? Or Arnold? Or … what’s the name of the guy who can do the splits on his kitchen counter? Anyway, things go rogue.

“The Break Line” was a page-turner. It just was too much movie and not enough book. Too much Michael Crichton and not enough John Le Carré. 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Captives by Debra Jo Immergut

Ecco, 288 pages, $26.99 (c2018)

Right off the bat I have to say that “Captives” suffered in contrast to “The Mars Room.” Both are about women serving long sentences in prison for murder. Both books have male characters who have awkward personalities. Both of the main characters are also victims of their own weaknesses and of others’. There is no vote or poll or contest, but “The Mars Room” wins anyway. Despite my prejudice, “Captives” has a lot to offer.

Miranda Greene, or “M,” as the awkward male personality in “Captives” nicknames her, is in her early thirties. Prison is horrid but Miranda has made a few friends, eccentric or vulnerable women like her. Their days are limiting and tedious. Miranda cannot stand the thought of serving her fifty-two year sentence, despite assurances from her family that legal appeals are progressing. She decides to take her own life and makes an appointment with one of the prison psychologists to acquire access to enough pills to do that.

The psychologist immediately recognizes Miranda. Frank Lundquist feels he has already failed as a psychologist in the outside world. The prison job is, for him, the lowest of the low, but he is still trying his best. Miranda was the girl of his dreams in high school, as it turns out. He was too awkward and shy to do anything about it; she was popular and dated a jock. Nevertheless, he spied on her, followed her around, watched her perform from a distance. Creepy, much? Frank’s marriage has failed, all he has is a cat waiting at home for him, his brother is an addict, his father is a world famous psychologist in whose shadow Frank is flailing. Frank’s world is becoming increasingly smaller.

When Frank meets Miranda again, fireworks go off. When Miranda meets Frank again, bupkis happens.

Frank should excuse himself from treating her, but of course that doesn’t happen. Although “Captives” is Miranda’s story, Frank is another kind of captive and his intrusion must be accepted. He is first an unwitting victim, then after throwing his professional scruples aside, he is complicit.

Debra Jo Immergut is a victim of Rachel Kushner’s excellence. Immergut’s writing is good, but it lacks Kushner’s oomph. Miranda is not as compelling a character as Kushner’s Romy Leslie Hall. (Also, and this is not Immergut’s fault, the cover of “Captives” is very misleading.)

“Captives” has been nominated for a 2019 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Under a Dark Sky by Lori Rader-Day

William Morrow Paperbacks, 416 pages, $15.95 (c2018)

Eden Wallace has been dealing with grief and depression because of the death of her husband, Bix, nine months earlier. Nevertheless, she is determined to honor a reservation her husband made for a getaway to a “dark park,” a place with very little extraneous light so the stars at night can shine in all their splendor. The catch is that Eden has developed an overwhelming fear of the dark. What does she hope to accomplish in a place whose main draw is one she cannot enjoy? This is how Lori Rader-Day’s mystery begins.

In the best Agatha Christie tradition, Rader-Day populates her large park cabin with Eden and six strangers. Night falls, one of them is murdered, Eden is caught in the middle and even becomes a suspect. So, whodunnit?

Rader-Day slowly reveals Eden’s full story. It gets sadder and sadder. She just wants to go home, where she can turn on all the lights in her house, not sleep at night, then finally drift off for a few hours as dawn is breaking. It’s a hellavu schedule to have kept for nine months. But she can’t go home as long as the murder of golden boy Malloy (a little pretentiously, just “Malloy”) goes unsolved.

The other suspects were friends of the victim. As a matter of fact, it appears it’s a college reunion of good friends that Eden inadvertently crashes. Although it’s been almost five years since they graduated, something is drawing them all together for the first time since then. Some of them have kept in touch, but the whole group is gathering to mourn the loss of one of their own. And that’s another story gradually teased out by Rader-Day.

Eden’s anxiety about the dark becomes symbolic for many aspects of her life. “Under a Dark Sky” is about Eden unburdening herself from what has been crushing her. She appears to be coolly competent and smart. As she attempts to unravel the murder herself — the local authorities being irritatingly slow, in her opinion — it appears she is fully capable of that. But that’s when her many problems rise up and confuse the issue. After a slow beginning — despite the murder — Rader-Day does a good job of ensuring her characters waver between knowable and unknowable and that several surprises await at the end. The only point that seemed vaguely awkward was the romance tossed into the storyline. Didn't need it, didn't want it.

“Under a Dark Sky” has been nominated for the 2019 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

2019 Edgar Nominees

These are the nominees for SOME of the categories. For the full list, see http://www.theedgars.com/nominees.html. Links are provided for books we have reviewed. We will be reviewing a couple more of these books and links will be provided to those reviews.

The Edgar Awards banquet will be on April 25, 2019, in New York City.

Best Novel

House Witness — Mike Lawson
A Gambler’s Jury — Victor Methos


Best First Novel

A Knife in the Fog — Bradley Harper
The Last Equation of Isaac Severy — Nova Jacobs
Bearskin — James A. McLaughlin


Best Paperback Original

Hiroshima Boy — Naomi Hirahara
The Perfect Nanny — Leila Slimani
Under My Skin — Lisa Unger

Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

Tin House Books, 320 pages, $25.95 (2018)

There is a lot of fuss being made about “Bitter Orange.” (It made NPR’s best book list of 2018.) There should be a “girl” or “woman” in the title, because it’s that kind of book. You think you know, the author spends a lot of time making you think you know, but really, you don’t know.

Odd duck Frances Jellico was the sole caretaker of her housebound mother for a couple of decades. She was her mother’s physical and emotional prisoner. Frances is presented as a nice girl who follows the rules. She is plain, virginal, and socially naive, with a dissonant overlay of academic sophistication. After her mother’s death, Frances felt she still had a lot to give, so she took a temporary post to do an architectural assessment of the grounds of Lyntons for its new owner. Peter Robertson has also received an assignment to do an assessment of the interior and furnishings of the estate. Peter has come equipped with a woman, Cara Calace. When Frances first glimpses Cara, she is shouting in Italian and evinces a fiery temper. Later, Frances learns Cara is Irish and has a fiery temper. They are the inhabitants of Lyntons for part of the summer.

Fuller sets the stage. Here is Frances:

I am a voyeur, the person who stands at the police tape watching someone’s life unravel, I am in the car slowing beside the accident but not stopping, I am the perpetrator returning to the scene of the crime. I am the lone mourner.

and

It was so hard to get it right, the way other people had conversations, back and forth with no effort. I wondered, not for the first time, how it was done.

“Bitter Orange” is also a bit of a gothic ghost story. There was a tragic figure, the last of the Lyntons, to whom a tragic story was tragically attached. Cara claims to have seen faces of children in the windows. Frances hears sounds in the night and odd things happen; a pillow is left in her bathtub, for instance. (I know, a pillow. But Fuller makes the pillow sound spooky. Points for her.)

Cara begins to confide in Frances. She says she had a baby, Finn, but she no longer has Finn. Frances, not being an expert interrogator, wonders but does not ask why. Or maybe she is a polite Brit. In any event, it is half the book gone before the story puts on a little meat. Yes, Cara has a bigger story. Yes, Peter has a bigger story. And, yes, Frances, the narrator, has her own big story.

When the book begins, we are listening to Frances who is on her deathbed. She is being visited by someone named Victor, whom she must know, did know in another life. It is twenty years past the point of the main story, about Frances’ summer with Cara and Peter. So the book is mostly a reminiscence told by a grumpy old woman who is dying about a turning point in her life in the 1960s. 

This was the main question I had: Why did Peter and Cara seek out Frances’ acquaintance? They all stayed up nights getting drunk, laughing, singing along with 60s music. Charismatic couple Peter and Cara cooked for her, took her on picnics, were kind to her. Frances, in turn, adored Cara who was everything she was not. She fell in love with Peter. She was haunted by Lyntons. But Frances was socially awkward, shy, burdened by her past, plain, chubby, old-fashioned, rigid.

“Bitter Orange” is about the unmaking of Frances’ idea of Frances. It is a story about what the essence of Frances is. Mostly Fuller’s language is gorgeous. It made me hang in past the point where I thought it was becoming bogged down. From the middle of the book onward, it was about revelations and I was caught in Fuller’s storyweb.