A widowed ex-schoolteacher who makes beautiful beaded jewelry and travels from craft show to craft show returns home to find a dead man in her kitchen. The local detective assigned to the case is a dog: he botches up the initial investigation and Lillianne’s house is totally trashed, searched and vandalized…. Someone is looking for something but she has no idea who or what… Annie — her gorgeous lawyer-friend, saves Lilliane from the silly police detective but trouble follows Lilliane until she herself is forced to solve the murder ….
A delightful, witty murder mystery about a small-town gated-community studded with the usual sociopathic suspects, albeit wealthy, and gorgeous social commentary. Waldorf Pines is an exclusive ex-1920’s ex-golf-course on which marbled kitchens and bathrooms have been built, bricked over with Tudorish frontage and populated by odd, classless, moneyed characters badly acting out their reality-tv-prototypes.
She’d once thought that all that mattered to them was money, but this wasn’t true. All that mattered to them was to be seen by other people to have money. They had not learned- if they were lucky they would never learn — that money is never enough if that is all you have.
And then there is Gregor Demarkian. A retired FBI officer hired by police departments to help them with their inquiries…..
She sounds like your high school Home Economics teacher, or the Hall Mother in your college Dormitory, or your new semi-retired accountant: clear, crisp, well organized and about 23 pounds overweight. She sounds pretty and pinkish and lipsticked. She is in her mid fifties and owns a Needlework Shop in Minnesota, which is confusing and full of lakes and coldish people. She has also developed a refreshingly useful talent for finding the truth about a murder. She never takes money, admits her amateur status, and uses nothing but her friends and neighbors and her clear, crisp, organized accountant’s mind as sources of information. She makes you feel like your world is only temporarily messy, and can be good as new and cute as a button if you just found her kind of Mary Poppins — inside your head. Good luck.
Also Recommended: Crewel World (the first and best of the Needlecraft Mystery series), A Stitch in Time, Buttons and Bones, A Murderous Yarn
A bouquet of accidents pop up at the beginning of the story: a cab crash in Manhattan, a car crash in Darien, Connecticut, an overdose in Mitford…For the rest of this story, the notion of accident is under erasure. What after all is an accident? Is the housing crisis an accident? Is the use of sub-paar Chinese building materials substituted for the good American stuff an accident?
Everywhere in the background is the restless problematic of wives and husbands struggling to maintain their position in a post-pastural not quite upper suburban middle class. .. An accidental class, in an accidental economy.
As in other Linwood Barclay tales the wife is either dead, missing or dissimulating: here the dead wife has been found inexplicably drunk behind the wheel of a crashed SUV. Husband and daughter are gobsmacked. Who was she if she was an alcoholic?
Who was his wife? Who were her friends? Their husbands? Their neighbors? Doubt turns all things ordinary into mysteries, even in Connecticut.
Again, we have Washington with its burials and its
laudations betrayals become elegy — where the ones praising the dead are also their executioners.
A Roman tradition carried brightly on by moral gamesmen, whose empires are supported by three rhetorical questions:
- Is it ethical for men in power, men entrusted by their countrymen with that power, to go outside the law if the situation demands it?
- Is it reasonable to expect the average citizen to understand what needs to be done?
- Is it logical to expect self-serving politicians to act on what needs to be done?
Moreover, there was no way that 16 divergent and competing intelligence agencies, “agencies staffed by bureaucrats who protected their rice-bowls more fiercely than any tigress ever protected a cub, would give up their authority, their autonomy, or their budgets for the sake of ‘cooperation'”. The spineless reports of fat blue ribbon commissions are produced for citizens only.
For gentlemen spies, political heirs of the original gentleman spy, Bill Donovan, positioned in between bureaucrats assigned to defend an agency’s dwindling budget, and ‘managers’ who, in line with current American management practices, did not really understand what they managed and hence had no idea what their technical or human instruments were overseeing, security overrides legality.
A girl detective who can speak a thousand languages, with her own personal Saint, New York City’s District Attorney as her father, and an ex Viet-Cong guerrilla as a nanny — only Robert Tanenbaum (and the City itself) could conjure up the sad, inscrutable Lucy Karp. As always when we step into Karpland we are stepping into the heart of Law, which is not only the territory of language, but the inherited traditions of men and the relationships these traditions imply.
Where men talk privately, they sit; where they sit, they eat and drink and cross identities. Over Marlene Chiampi’s kitchen table, we find lawyers, detectives, Indians and journalists…A student of Karp’s comes to him for help in defending a coach who has been debunked by his Association, robbed of the liberty to ply his trade. And as always in a Christian kitchen, food and tragedy mix. At the end of the second bottle of Chianti, the phone rings with news that Ariadne Stupenegel is injured in the bombing of a restaurant — where she was mixing food and words, food and information, food and secrets.
There is something annoying, something unsettling, something demoralizing about a story in which all the women are either murder victims, embittered but useless mothers, faithful, ineffectual wives, or sexually charged students with dancers’ bodies. Annoying, too, is witnessing an entire small town turn against an innocent man and his brainy wife, both outsiders, neither one well-liked. Into this remote and stupid Wisconsin town drives a detective from Naples, with one earring, spiky hair, a trust fund, (but no lap top), whose actress mother taught him that “if someone was moving their lips in Los Angeles, they were probably lying.” This assemblage of unpleasantness doesn’t stop one from wanting to find out who done it.
“Don’t make any major changes in the first year” … they say at AA. Matt Scudder has five or six weeks not to decide what he’s going to do about Jan, a girl he sees Saturday night and Sunday morning …
“Some people say not to make any major changes for the first five years… or even ten,” Jim, a fellow AA member, tells him.
After a meeting at St. Claire’s Hospital they walk home and Jim says:
“Something Buddha said as it happens: it is your dissatisfaction with what is that is the source of all your unhappiness..”
I said: “Buddha said that?”
“So I’m told, though I have to admit I wasn’t there to hear him. You seem surprised.”
“Well,” I said, “I never thought he had that much depth to him.”
“That’s what everybody calls him, and what he calls himself as far as that goes. Big guy. Must stand 6′ 6 . Shaves his head. Belly out to here. He’s a regular at the midnight meeting at the Moravian Church but he turns up other places as well. I think he’s a former outlaw biker and my guess is he’s done time but…”
The look on his face stopped me.
He said: “the Buddha. Sitting under the Bodhi tree, waiting for enlightenment.”
“Listen, it was a natural mistake. The only Buddha I know works at the Moravian Church.”
Making amends is step 8 of the 12 step program, and Jack Ellery is making amends when he ends up dead. His gay, persnickety, over-responsible sponsor has Jack’s list of amendees. He tells Matt Scudder that maybe he should “look into” whether somebody on the list is a killer. Matt Scudder does.
Dry, sidewalk humor full of alcohol and hotel rooms and pre-digital middle aged uncoupled city men. But also, that wry twist of fate that takes Order and Organization and runs over it.
This time, the Order is the Big Book and its steps: specifically step 8. How rules make themselves flesh, and how that flesh moves it’s rules around life and institutes life in their image.
Here’s the recipe: a youngish, pretty-ish, orphaned wife in or near Manhattan; a deceptive, felonious, or sleepwalking husband; a repressed or forgotten family scene, and wealth. Large, plush estates in tony suburbs, classic co-ops on exclusive avenues, perfectly cut clothes and lawns, professionally designed apartments, luxurious offices, always seen as if by a dazzled outsider, a maid, a secretary, a clerk, a tradesman to a privileged class.
Somewhere, somehow, somebody is murdered, kidnapped, arrested, accused.
A crime develops by pulling at and pulling out the pins of identity: what happens if a person forgets what she has done? What happens when a person has no memories of a mother, a father? What happens when a person believes that she is married to a man who is not who he pretends to be? What happens when a person does not tell her husband about her past? What happens when a friend, a neighbor, a son, a sister, a priest, a doctor, a lawyer is untrustworthy? What happens when a child is removed from a mother, and a mother is removed from her child? What happens to a classy woman when she is removed from her class?
At St. Alban’s Church there is a stained glass window picturing a Roman soldier with a halo dressed as a Priest. The Roman soldier was Alban. When the Priest who converted him was sentenced to death, Alban switched clothes with him and died in his place.
A soldier disguised as a priest describes in some sense the Rector herself, an ex-army helicopter pilot, who turns up at crime scenes, and helps the Chief of Police solves crimes in a small snowy parish about 2 hours drive from Albany.