It could be any neighborhood in the 1970s or 1980s or any conventional middle class development with young childless couples on the verge of divorce or adultery. The neighborhood librarian becomes a felonious sleepwalker before becoming the librarian at a Women’s Correctional Institute, teaching other felons to read, doing sit ups in her cell, falling in love with a white collar criminal in the medium security men’s prison across the way.
After 12 years she is reprieved by DNA evidence and returns to the neighborhood to re-examine a life she inhabited uncomfortably. Once she was a woman in between miscarriages, who locked her doors at night so that no one would steal the mattress stained by her third dead fetus. Now she is a woman in between innocence and guilt, trying to remember the truth.
It could be any small college town and any next door neighbor. But the town is Promise Falls and the neighbors next door are The Langleys. The story begins when they are murdered. Bert the policeman investigates the neighborhood, starting with Jim Cutter’s house.
Jim has been many things: a painter, a salesman, a chauffeur. Now he is the guy who mows the lawn. The story moves quickly, in and out of the private indiscretions of a mayor, a driver, an ex-con, a hooker, husbands, wives, cuckolds.
The pace of discovery is faster than the pace of ordinary life: the difference is what we call “a thrill”.
Two women, one girl. One steals identities, one leaves identities behind her. Zosie de l’Alba is the bad witch with red lollipop shoes, who befriends the good witch, draws the entire neighborhood into her chocolate shop, and seduces an adolescent girl.
The skinny long legged girl with patch pockets shimmies down the fire escape to meet him, and hovers just a little bit above the ground, hanging, swinging above Castle street, in his dream, and forty years ago. After the dream, the old man wakes up, and hears the neighborhood kids destroying the neighborhood. He jumps down to the sidewalk, and shoots up and into the night at them. One of the kids dies. He sweeps up the broken glass in front of his house before he man goes to prison.
He is Tess Monaghan’s first client. She needs the business. Her second client is a sassy business woman and a liar. But Tess takes her case too.
The past comes back like a prisoner or a dream. There is no place for it, no place to put it.
This short sharp tale of a dominant woman D.A. who loves political office far too well adds new personae to the genealogy of Cornwell’s anger. Monique Lamonte, a moneyed, manipulative, Harvardy alpha female; Winn, her cop investigator pretty boy with a tarot-reading grandmother and a taste for Hugo Boss and Prada; Sykes, a pugnacious fortyish blondy girl agent from Tennessee, and Miss Dog, part beagle part Shepard part deaf part blind neighborhood pet.
In the middle of orchestrating an “Any Crime, Any Time” campaign to solve old crimes and open old cases, D.A. Lamonte is raped.
How does a dominant female sound when she’s bound and spread-eagled on her own King size bed by a man with a pistol?
“I’m a whore. I’m nothing but a filthy whore…”
The stuff of fantasies for many Cornwell fans, no doubt. But all the sex takes place off-stage. And the only thing that’s really fantastic is the way forensics can read twenty year old ruffled panties a la DNA for evidence as accurate as it is damning.
In his thuggy Italian voice, Ferrone rasps the staggeringly funny stretched-out Goombah logic of an ex con from Mulberry Street as he helps an ex-cop burgle a ritzy old-world Hotel and save Democracy.
The two Italians stumble into the sub counter plot of a fanatic Cuban terrorist-doctor with a bad liver, sent by Castro to destroy capitalist Yankee life in upstate New York. Or maybe not. His mad, running commentary on property and land and personality is a war of principalities, which he loses.
“…he marvelled most at the size of the mens room. As he stood in the center of one of the several long lines of urinals, he wondered: Did Yankees have weak bladders? Could there be a real need to accommodate so many men at one time or was there some terrible overproduction of things like urinals, quietly absorbed by the government?”
And then there are the internal ghettos of Capitalism represented by your friendly neighborhood constitutional criminal, Franky Belmonty, who also has difficulty believing in Property.
“I did one course at the New School for Social Research up on 12th Street. The Urban Deviant as Middle America’s Scapegoat, it was called. Taught by a middle American would faint if he ever came within 3 feet of a serious deviant — even a rural one.”