Drawn from cases he encountered in law enforcement, Wilson’s (The Newport Harbor Murders Revisited, 2011) first novel examines the effects of one man’s ongoing molestation of young girls through multiple generations of his ever-expanding family.
Bart Ferguson is ambitious and outgoing. In his 20s, however, he becomes a pariah to his family after he fondles a 4-year-old niece. Good looking and a good talker, he tries to settle down with various women but must always move on after molesting their daughters. His proclivities bring divorce and dishonorable discharge, though he eventually prospers, marries a war widow named Connie and begins new molestations that go undetected or ignored through generations. The author adopts a style that feels similar to a television docudrama along the lines of America’s Most Wanted, an approach that has several advantages. The familiar style lends a certain verisimilitude and immediacy and also allows an amount of editorializing that might not work in straightforward fiction. For instance, the narrator repeatedly calling Bart a pervert and a coward feels natural in this style, as do smaller authorial intrusions: e.g., “Sadly,” the narrator says, “child molesters often go for years without exposure,” and “Sexual molesting was not the only way Bart ruined lives.” Wilson also builds his main characters through their accumulated actions and dialogue: Bart is bombastic, self-delusional and manipulative but also generous, hardworking and in some ways caring; Mary and her husband, Bruce, are both stubborn and willing to stand up to Bart; and Nancy’s victimization fills her with shame and makes her a pawn in Bart’s game. Eventually, Bart’s actions divide the family and bring about a final showdown among these and other well-constructed personalities. True-crime buffs and psychologically curious readers will find the novel particularly absorbing.
Though fiction, the factually informed story provides an insightful look into the minds and methods of serial molesters as well as those of their victims.