REPRISAL by Mitchell Smith


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A tense, low-key thriller that takes a poet and professor, strips everybody she loves away from her, and then watches to see what she’ll do. Joanna Reed is a survivor of her parents’ divorce, of the cancer that took her right breast, of a hundred perilous spelunking expeditions, and now of a shocking pair of accidents: her husband Frank’s drowning off their summer place on Asconsett Island, and her father Louis Bernard’s burning to death in his backwoods cabin. Only Joanna doesn’t think they were accidents. Even before the news of the fire that claimed her father’s life, she didn’t believe that the first time Frank ever took off his life-jacket was also the first time he ever fell off a boat. But Asconsett chief constable Carl Early blows her off with a New Englander’s brusque idea of sympathy, even when she goes back to him in a rage after her careful father dies because of his supposed carelessness. So Joanna, sunk in a grief that Smith (Sacrifice, 1997, etc.) renders with respect for each painful nuance, launches her own investigation and ends up in the middle of an ill-advised drug-smuggling plot that’s rescued only because its participants turn out to be people as fragile and tentative as Joanna herself. Despite her chastening run-in with these not-so-bad guys, she’s still ninety percent sure her men were murdered, and, as Smith has revealed from the opening scene, she’s a hundred percent right. Both were killed by resourceful, manipulative Charis Langenberg, the summer college roommate of Joanna’s daughter Rebecca. And Charis, a cool piece of work who’s plotted both murders with cunning detachment, isn’t done with Joanna yet. It’s not until she strikes still closer to home that Smith weds his standard-issue thriller plot to the surprising texture he’s shown all along. Instead of the usual fruits of the genre—creeping menace and empty surprises—Smith offers something rarer: a fine sense of the ambiguous intimacy between predator and prey.

Pub Date: May 10th, 1999
ISBN: 0-525-93979-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1999


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