The arson death of Britt Andersen’s long-estranged sister is all in a day’s woe in MacDonald’s latest round of domestic suspense.
Abandoned as a child by her mother, Boston TV producer Britt hadn’t spoken to Greta Lynch for 12 years, ever since their father died of cancer while Britt was away at college and Greta’s resentment at her own abandonment boiled over. Now Britt arrives in Coleville, Vermont, in the shadow of Mt. Glace, to find that her sister’s left a disconcerting legacy. Alec Lynch is so abrupt and unwelcoming that his daughter Zoe’s obvious affection and need for her newfound aunt are all the more awkward—especially once police chief Ray Stern rules the fire suspicious and Britt, convinced that Alec set it, trumpets her certainty to both Ray and Alec. Though Alec’s neighbor Kevin Carmichael, the high-powered attorney who plucked Zoe from the blaze, takes over his defense, his alibi is laughably weak, and the circumstantial evidence against him dauntingly strong. He’s obviously close to Laurie Rossi, the twinkie assistant at his snowmobile dealership; he’d rented a cozy little one-bedroom house even before Greta’s death; and the morning Britt arrives, he swiftly takes charge of the registered letter from a detective agency specializing in family surveillance that’s come addressed to Greta. The whole setup is all so pat that Britt is obviously misreading her surly brother-in-law as homicidal, leaving the field of suspects wide open (the Carmichaels’ spoiled surrogate mother? the ambitious local TV reporter? the self-righteous neighbors?). Yet the characters are too transparently themselves, too forthright in their accusations and defensive maneuvers, to keep their secrets hidden very long or very convincingly, and only the dullest readers will be as dumbfounded as Britt by the alleged surprises.
MacDonald, who parlayed everyday fears into spiraling paranoia so effectively in Not Guilty (2002), piles on the menace, suspicion, and deceit this time until the whole exercise shrieks formula.