After Invisible Eden (2003), a true-crime bestseller, Flook returns with a third novel (following Open Water, 1995, etc.): a tale of romance between two year-rounders on Cape Cod.
Alden, once a neglected child—deserted by her mother at ten, her father in and out of jail—lives in an isolated beach shack and works at the National Seashore Visitor Center, handling bird counts and the gift shop. The local cops think of her as “Miss Bride Interrupted,” because her husband, Monty, disappeared two years before, leaving her “high strung and unhinged” (they assume he ran off with “a skirt”). Alden takes meals to Hyram, an elderly environmental activist, and yearns for a child, but the foster-care supervisor hasn’t approved a license. The story begins when she witnesses an accident in which Layla, paint sniffer and local porn star, is thrown from her car. Alden rescues Layla’s baby, safe in a car seat, and the cops take him to social services while Alden fantasizes about bringing him home with her. Meanwhile, ornamental shrubbery at the accident site needs repair—so enter Lux, a landscaper with a strange “freezing syndrome,” an obsession with Alden, and a very bad secret: back when he was mixing alcohol and Vicodin and driving the school bus, he got drunk one night with the mysteriously disappeared Monty and not only accidentally ran over him but buried him in the nursery under the very ornamental that’s now needed to patch up the shrubbery along the road. Will he be found out? He turns for help to his sister-in-law Gwen (who likes him to share her bed when her husband is fishing for swordfish) and his ex-con buddy King. By the time he begins an affair with Alden, the narrative has begun to wobble badly.
Flook’s descriptions can be breathtaking, but the ludicrous plot, maddeningly irrelevant exposition, and unlikable characters leave this one flat.