ARSON by Elizabeth Fackler


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Neat and nasty: a short tale of old murder resurfacing in small-town Middle America--part mystery, part blackmail, part psychopathology. When a long-buried gun is found in a local lake, young reporter Frank James, competing with sexy colleague Mariah, is determined to turn it into a career-making scoop. And, indeed, the gun is quickly connected to the never-solved 1954 murder of swinish young scion Aaron Calendar. Furthermore, Frank and Mariah begin to suspect what the reader (thanks to a prologue) already knows: that the '54 killing involved Aaron's sister Abby, now the town's swankiest matron, and her husband contractor Chuck Runnels--the 1950s drifter who seduced teenager Abby, promptly marrying her (under an assumed name) right after Aaron's semi-accidental (?) death. The novel's second half, then, concentrates on the edgy confrontations between the reporters and the guilt-ridden (but powerful) culprits--complicated by Frank's ambivalent feelings about Abby (his mother's oldest, sexiest friend), by the reporters' ambition vs. greed vs. compassion. And finally, after the killing's details (which have remained mysterious) emerge, there's a violent psychological awakening for Frank. . . and violent ends for the long-ago sinners. Not entirely persuasive at the close--but the pacing is steady, the twists are compact, and Fackler (with echoes of James M. Cain and others) is gutsy enough to make both Frank and Mariah selfish, lustful, only half-sympathetic anti-heroes.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1984
Publisher: Dodd, Mead