Art, money, and ill intent collide in Interview magazine editor Bollen’s (Lightning People, 2011) sophomore novel.
Mills Chevern (“You know by now that Mills Chevern isn’t my real name”) arrives in Orient, on the North Fork of Long Island, as an adolescent drifter. He leaves a somewhat more established figure in the community, both suspect and savior. What happens in between is the subject of all kinds of speculation in Bollen's leisurely yarn, for his arrival coincides with a rash of murders in the placid community, a haven for the well-to-do and a slew of real estate agents, developers, and artists (“the sex was miserable, but they were artists who craved misery”) who depend on those richies for their livelihoods. One, Beth, a native of the place with an intimate knowledge of where all the previous bodies are buried, so to speak, takes Mills in, courting the bad temper of a memorable Romanian artist who serves as a kind of Greek chorus to the later proceedings, growling and grumping. As the bodies mount, the huge pool of suspects begins to dwindle somewhat, for everyone, it seems, has a reason to kill; as Mills laments, “How can that detective suspect me when all these people had a motive?” Given all the possibilities, the identity of the real killer, in a nicely paced tale that unfolds deliberately over the course of 600 pages, is a nice surprise. Bollen could have chosen to sneer, scold, and satirize, for, he lets us know, at least some of the victims had it coming. But he mostly plays it straight—except, that is, for the moments of perilous same-sex entanglement, reminiscent of the best of Patricia Highsmith. And no one emerges unscathed from the gossipy tale, full of crossed storylines and small-town malice; Bollen has a real talent for summarizing character with zingers that nicely punctuate the story: “‘I love you too,’ she said, chain-rolling and chain-smoking her cigarettes, a one-woman factory, her mouth a purple waste-management vent.”
Skillfully written, with delightful malice aforethought.