by Ron Hansen ‧ RELEASE DATE: Feb. 1, 1996
After the heady success of Mariette in Ecstasy (1991), Hansen toys with mystery writing in a slick fiction that also continues his last novel's spiritual intrigue. Here, the author deliberately invokes Lazarus and the Prodigal Son in a story that otherwise relies on lots of Hollywood imagery. Atticus Cody, like the Atticus of Harper Lee, is a righteous man in his 60s, a good father who can express himself only indirectly. His younger son, Scott, over 40 and still wandering through life, is home for the holidays, and, as usual, father and son can't communicate. With his history of manic-depression and suicidal bouts, Scott is anathema to his stoic dad, a successful oilman. He also suffers from the guilt of having killed his mother in a car accident after college, and senses his father's blame. All this changes later, though, when Atticus is summoned to Mexico to retrieve Scott's dead body. Shortly after meeting his son's friend in the decadent, expat community on the Gulf Coast, Atticus senses that something's amiss, that Scott didn't commit suicide but was murdered. Atticus's careful detective work is the best way he knows of showing love for his son, and he pursues the mystery with a sense of belated forgiveness and reconciliation. The mystery is more or less resolved two thirds into the novel, when Scott's discovered hiding out among the homeless in a church basement. He then wraps up all the disparate details in a sad tale of accidental murders, blackmail, mistaken identity, and an adrenalin-fueled effort to elude justice. Hansen spares none of the supercilious expatriates and bleeds for the oppressed campesinos with their mystical attachments to the land, making for a fairly predictable subtext. There's a writerly neatness in Hansen's vocabulary of images and allusions, though some seem jammed into the narrative for the sake of it. One suspects--and suspects again, when Scott mentions having a ""movie moment""--that Hansen wrote this one with an eye to the screen, where Mariette is due soon.
Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1996
Page Count: 224
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1995
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