Another of Cook’s retrospective strolls down Murder Lane begins with an apparently chance encounter at a typically dreary book signing.
Twenty years after escaping his family’s home and the convenience store in Glenville, Ala., Prof. Martin Lucas Paige looks back on a life that’s brought him moderate professional success as a Harvard-trained historian but not a single enduring human relationship. He abandoned his high-school sweetheart Roxanne because she was too ordinary for the grand future he envisioned; his wife Julia divorced him when she realized that he’d always be a stranger to her; and his parents died years ago, his father shot to death, his mother felled by a wasting illness soon thereafter. Now Luke’s past confronts him with a jolt in the person of Lola Faye Gilroy, the store clerk whose estranged husband Woody, maddened by her affair with Luke’s father, had killed Doug Paige. At first baffled and affronted by Lola Faye’s request that he sign a copy of his new book for her (what should he write? he wonders: “Nice seeing you in Saint Louis”?), Luke joins her for a drink that turns into an endless colloquy, an insinuating interrogation by his late father’s mistress that reveals layers of illusion and self-deception and ends by turning his world upside-down by forcing him to acknowledge just how high-priced his Harvard degree was.
An improbable tale slow to gather momentum, but darkly powerful in the end—a welcome recovery from the obscurantism of The Fate of Katherine Carr (2009).