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by Laura Benedict

ISBN: 978-0-345-49769-7
Publisher: Ballantine

A Faustian pact that might have been made by the Count of Monte Cristo plays out in present-day Cincinnati.

Years ago, three schoolgirls who dabbled in sex, spying and the magic arts of Santeria made a shocking accusation against their math teacher. The truth beneath their allegation was ugly enough, but the spin they put on it got Father Romero rusticated to a monastery in Iowa, far from more supposed temptation. Before his bus arrived at its destination, however, the troubled Cuban-born priest disembarked. He settled into a secular life and eventually ran into a mysterious fixer named Varick, with whom he struck a bargain: “Romero’s life for the promise of the ruin of Del, Alice, and Roxanne.” In the years since their last meeting, Roxanne has blossomed into a floridly promiscuous painter; febrile Alice has inherited a bundle, married dentist Thad Hudson and resigned herself to a life without the children she craves; and Delilah—well, it’s not quite clear what to make of Del, because apart from doing her best to mother Wendy, the five-year-old daughter of her divorce-lawyer husband, she doesn’t leave much of an impression. Neither does Dillon McVay, the angry teenager whose sister Amber has been promoted from Thad’s office to his bed. Even Varick comes off not as powerfully sinister but as a comic-book villain in need of a cup of coffee. Because Benedict (Isabella Moon, 2007) hasn’t decided just how otherworldly she wants to make the fantastical tale of Romero’s revenge, it veers uncontrollably from kitchen-sink naturalism to things that go bump in the night. The book appears to have been thought out in terms of a series of set pieces. Without a sustained plot, it never gathers the momentum or generates the sympathy its subject might seem to guarantee.

Lacks both the juice of genre thrillers and the penetration of literary fiction.