Gripping fiction about a professor, a family of fortunetellers and a secret academic history.
Harry Sterling is a washed-up journalist, a sometimes drunk, a well-meaning divorced father and an uninspired professor at a small university in northern Florida. He can be cocky and foolhardy, but Shaara (Every Secret Thing, 2006) succeeds in making him irresistibly likable overall. Based on a hunch, Harry begins investigating rumors that Charles Ziegart was not the true inventor of “the Ziegart effect,” a famous breakthrough in physics. This isn’t easy, because all the researchers who worked on it seem to have met untimely and suspicious deaths. On one of his late-night binges, Harry lands at the door of Josie Dupree, a local fortuneteller living on the wrong side of the tracks. Convinced she knows the truth about the Ziegart effect’s mysterious history, Harry begins his investigation in earnest. Simultaneously, he develops a friendship, and then a romance, with Maggie, the daughter of Josie’s dead sister (who was also a fortuneteller—hence the title). The slightly unbalanced but beautiful and intriguing Maggie comes with a mysterious past of her own. Her transformation from diner cook into something more is slightly disjointed, and her apparently remarkable essence is conveyed primarily through Harry’s reaction to her, rather than in her own actions or speech. Nevertheless, she too manages to capture the reader’s curiosity. The narrative is wonderfully suspenseful, and the incorporation of Tarot cards and mysticism adds a unique and engaging stylistic touch. As Harry comes closer to the truth, he, Maggie and both of their families fall further into danger. Seedy, conniving characters populate the story line, but Shaara resists caricatures in her animated portrayal of small-town Southern life. The only letdown is the ending, which runs out of steam and leaves some plot points unanswered.
Fortune favors this entertaining read.