Orient Point, New York (the Eastern most tip of Long Island)
(Reviewed by Judi Clark JUN 29, 2003)
Hope Lawrence's wedding day is approaching quickly. As a resident of the well-to-do Manchester-By-The-Sea community located on the North Shore of Massachusetts, the wedding plans are elaborate. Hope is marrying Jack Cabot, a very rich and privileged young man, whom she has been seeing since high school. Jack has always been her destiny; she knew this was true even during the two years she didn't see him -- when she was involved with an older Portuguese Lobsterman named Carl who lives in the rough fishing community of Gloucester. Not at all the kind of man that Bill Lawrence imagined for his daughter, and as we soon find out, he's willing to do anything to stop that relationship from ruining Hope's future with Jack.
Marriage to Jack Cabot would be anyone's dream. Certainly it is for Hope's jealous half-sister who saw Jack when Hope was not. And Hope's parents are very pleased with the arrangement, so much so that when Jack and Hope refuse to discuss signing a prenuptial, her parents conspire with the Cabots to help get it done. Certainly, Hope claims to love Jack, though she seems not to be as happy about the situation as one would expect, especially evidenced by her resurging bulimia. And then there still seems to be the whole question about Carl and Hope's lingering feelings for this man. For obvious and not-so-obvious reasons, Jack's parents are suddenly very concerned about his marriage to Hope, especially if no prenuptial is signed.
As was Nancy Geary's forte in her previous novel, she's out to show us that all the money in the world doesn't exactly bring happiness -- but it does breed secrets and other ill feelings. And murder.
Hope's older cousin, Francis Pratt, is naturally invited to the wedding. For Francis, summer visits to her Aunt Adelaide's home on Smith Point are remembered as an ideal time of her life, one in which she could imagine herself part of this lovely family. Hope's marriage to Jack is no surprise to her as she was always an adored child, destined to marry well. Up until the wedding, Francis' main worry is how will Sam Guff (her neighbor, best friend and now lover) hold up to her pretentious family. Francis is unaware of all the behind the scenes shenanigans going on between the Lawrence and Cabot family - and the outsider named Carl. And of course none of this is discussed out loud, ever. The Manchester-By-the-Sea people go out of their way to be cheerful and to maintain that life is better than good.
So when the bride does not show up at the alter and it's going on 90 minutes late, Adelaide Cabot asks Francis to go check on Hope and bring her to the church. Apparently her father has tried without success and Adelaide feels its best she stays to keep up appearances. But when Francis goes over to her aunt's house, she finds one dead bride -- she's hanging in the closet.
There's a part of me that doesn't want to like this kind of setting, you know, the dirty lives of rich people. But Geary writes a good whodunit with so many possible murderers, including even that of suicide. Geary neither overly glamorizes nor excessively knocks their well-to-do lives. Instead, she draws us in by teasing us with snippets here and there until it ties together. The plot is tangled around the convoluted secrets and the resulting damage; all made worse in trying to protect the wrong things. When it comes to redemption, there are many in need. Besides leading us through the investigative threads, for Francis Pratt who is both an insider and an outsider, it's an opportunity to learn more about herself and the values that she grew up with.
Redemption is a successful whodunit because clues are sprinkled throughout the novel, not blatant but not subtle either. Enough so that it's like playing the game of Clue -- once you know an important clue -- like say, the noose was tied with a bowline knot -- then you can start to look for who might have the knowledge to tie this knot. The author lets us do this work, she does not have Francis Pratt recap what she knows, but instead keeps the story moving along as we learn more and more. It is the kind of mystery in which we are positive we are not going to be surprised when the killer is revealed, but yet, until the killer's identity is resolved we really don't know the answer -- we just keep thinking we do.
Redemption is the perfect kind of summer read - compelling enough to keep you glued to your beach chair, but also easy enough to follow that if you want to put it down to enjoy some of the other vacation activities you won't lose your place in the story. Actually, you may want to read both of Geary's novels back-to-back since it helps to know the trouble Francis Pratt went through when her stepmother, Clio Pratt died on the previous Fourth of July. I am curious as to what Nancy Geary will cook up for Francis Pratt's third outing. Maybe it's time for her to find out that her boyfriend's family is not so perfect either, certainly the rich don't own the market on family secrets. Though as you'll see once again, Geary does have a knack for having these secrets turn on themselves in some unexpected way.
- Amazon readers rating: from 12 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Redemption at MostlyFiction.com(back to top)
(Reviewed JUN 24, 2001)This is what we know at the onset of this novel: Someone has decided to end the life of another on the 4th of July so that the anniversary of the death will always be celebrated with fireworks. What is it that someone has done to deserve such creative hatred?
The novel actually starts on May 20th, amidst the secret meeting of the Fair Lawn Country Club Membership Committee. The committee members are discussing Henry Lewis's application. He's a first-rate cardiac surgeon, married to one of their Junior Members, financially stable with low mortgages on two homes, sends two daughters to private schools, and is considered an overall respectable man. Normally he would be a perfect candidate, but, if accepted, he would be the tennis club's first African-Amercan member. Clio Pratt is willing to state what others are reluctant to say, "Henry Lewis does not belong here."
Clio Pratt is not technically a member of the committee. She is carrying the proxy vote for her husband who was been stricken as an invalid after a stroke exactly one year earlier. It's not enough that she is speaking her mind, but she is also threatening to blackball Henry Lewis's application, which means he could never apply again. Is this truly what Richard Pratt would vote? Each member is allowed one blackball vote, but rarely is it ever used. George Welch, socially more liberal than most in the club, is outraged. He moves for the committee to abstain from voting so that Henry might be able to apply again in the future, when Clio Pratt is no longer on the committee.
It would be surprising if the 4th of July target wasn't Clio Pratt. Clio is malevolent. She whispers behind Beverly Winters' back that she caused her invalid husband to commit suicide when she asked him for a divorce. Despite threatening to blackball their son-in-law from the club, she continues to socialize with the Bancrofts. She has never treated her stepdaughters well, even as young girls, as noted by their mother Aurelia Watson. And now that Richard has left her in charge of the household and business, she refuses to give her stepdaughter, Blair Devlin, a loan even though without it, it could put the Devlin's art gallery out of business. Clio is also undercutting her husband's business partner, Miles Adler, refusing to listen to him even though Richard has always let him make his own decisions. The question always seems to come back to this, is she truly representing her husband's will in all these decisions? But no one can get to Richard to find out.
So by the time July 4th does arrive and Clio Pratt is found dead in the ladies room of the Fair Lawn Country Club, there are at least a dozen who have motive. Heck, we as the reader want her dead as well. This is a mean, petty lady.
Unofficially investigating the crime is assistant D.A. Frances Pratt, the other stepdaughter. Franny realizes that not only do a lot of people have motive, but opportunity as well. Her boss doesn't want her involved in the investigation, but providing comfort to her father doesn't come as naturally as it does for her sister, so she decides she can help him best by finding the killer. But there is probably a good reason she shouldn't be involved in the investigation. Prying open the South Hampton crowd brings her too close to something she doesn't really want to know. Specifically, behind the privacy is a variety of misfortune, not the least her own. And in this community, shame is the worst kind of misfortune. Perhaps, Clio's actions have more to do with protecting her privacy than outright vindictiveness.
Geary handles the complex nature of this tight community quite adeptly. This is a page-turner on two levels. First, she's conducting a personal investigation into the lives of these very well off families, including her own. Although there is an expectation that the setting would lend itself to be a gossipy kind of novel, it really isn't, which is one reason the story held my interest. On another level, this is a story about Frances Pratt, a woman who has chosen to isolate herself from the South Hampton crowd, yet Clio's death brings about a pivotal point in her life. At thirty eight she's unmarried and somewhat satisfied living a near solitary life. When she left New York City eight years earlier, she broke off an engagement with a successful Italian businessman. She traded that lifestyle for one living in a farmhouse just outside of Orient Point, a good forty-five miles from South Hampton. It's here that she tends to her garden, her two dogs, and is kept company with her neighbor and Bingo partner, Sam Guff. But with Clio's death, she's seeing her choices differently and she's becoming disillusioned with the district attorney job, in fact she's suspicious that the justice system can't provide true restitution, after all.
I am hoping that Misfortune is only the first in a series featuring Frances Pratt. (I'll gladly move this from the Mystery/Suspense section to the Favorite Sleuth section.) Perhaps Nancy Geary will let Ms. Pratt hang a shingle outside of her doorstep and start up a private practice. Meanwhile I highly recommend this for your summer "whodunit" reading list.
- Amazon readers rating: from 15 reviews
Read the first chapter of Misfortune at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
Francis Pratt Mysteries:
- Being Mrs. Alcott (July 2005)
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- Nancy Geary's Web Site
- WhoDunnit bio of Nancy Geary
- Reading Guide for Misfortune
- Find Law's reviewof Misfortune
- BookReporter.com review of Redemption
- Read a chapter excerpt from Regrets Only
- WhoDunnit review of Regrets Only
- MostlyFiction.com review of Being Mrs. Alcott
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About the Author:
Nancy Geary was born in New York City but was raised in two worlds. She lived in the city with her photographer mother, who instilled in her an appreciation for diversity and creativity. And with her extremely disciplined father in South Hampton who taught her the value of hard work and financial self-sufficiency and gave her the continuity of summer after summer at the private country clubs.
For four years Geary was a prosecutor for the Criminal Bureau of the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office, a participant in the Attorney General's Urban Violence Strike Force, and for two years an attorney with Choate, Hall & Stewart in Boston.
She lives with her son and two dogs in a small town an hour from New York City.