A novel of madness and murder in 19th-century Los Angeles.
To escape an impossibly impaired family life, Isadora Lugo has run away from home at 18 and become Sister Ria of the Benedictine Order of the Sisters of Mercy in Poona, India. But trouble back home continues: While stationed at a leper colony, she learns that her father has been accused of murdering Dorothy Regal, a local prostitute, and is scheduled to be executed in eight days. Ria returns to her unwelcoming household, in part to determine whether her father, Don Maximiato, in fact committed the heinous act; however, he’s incapable of helping his cause owing to his debilitating madness, the condition that had influenced her earlier flight. Flashbacks to Ria’s painful relationship with her father are incorporated into the narrative. They include the time he shaved her head and forced her to dress like a boy after her mother died, and the time he showed up at a birthday party dressed in women’s clothes. Every time she tries to force a confession from her father, he deflects her questions with irrationalities and seems incapable of even understanding that his death is imminent. Instead, he spends his time painting obsessively—and even helps minister to the poor Mexicans and Indians who inhabit the local depressed area. Ria confronts her father, her sister and their glacial housekeeper and quickly becomes unsettled. Mysterious objects appear that cast doubt on Don Maximiato’s innocence, and an enigmatic figure in a brown cutaway suit appears on the edges of her world to threaten yet another murder. Eventually we find that insanity runs deeper in the Lugo family than even Ria suspected.
Eidson (The Missing, 2003, etc.) succeeds in plunging us into a colorful and disturbing world.