Britisher Parsons's harrowing first novel traces the aftermath of a brutal sex killing. The bare bones of the story couldn't be simpler. Mary Mitchell and her single mother, newly arrived in Dublin from a long residence in New Zealand, have few friends in the area, even though Margaret Mitchell grew up there before taking her M.D. in psychiatry and leaving the country for a faraway job in a hospital for the criminally insane. The first time Mary catches the eye of limousine driver Jimmy Fitzsimons, he wants her, and before long he abducts and kills her after subjecting her to an eight- day-long litany of grueling horrors. Inspector Michael McLoughlin's men, perhaps taking their cue from their hard-drinking, philandering chief, fail to turn up a single clue until Jenny Adamson, a former photography teacher of Jimmy's, comes forward with the story of her own ordeal at his hands, a story that convinces McLoughlin to haul Jimmy in for a brutal round of questioning and quick arrest. But when Jimmy's high-powered barrister, Patrick Holland, gets involved, the case against him begins to unravel, with predictably shocking results. Simple as it is, Parsons unfolds this tale in a series of unnerving and lacerating vignettes that tie Jimmy's delight in Margaret's misery to McLoughlin's self-hating sexual escapades, Mary's loving memorials to the father who died before she was born, her dying grandmother's crazy quilt of memories, and Margaret's fathomless grief, followed ultimately by her frenzied quest for revenge. And even though the guilt is known from the beginning, Parsons, who sees deeply and unerringly into dark corners that her characters would die rather than show each other, plants merciless surprises in the most unlikely places. Powerful stuff—lyrical, elliptical, and unrelentingly grim.
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