Thursday, March 30, 2017

What we're reading: John Lescroart's latest

John Lescroart, an author whose series I have faithfully read and in some cases even returned to for a reread here and there, has a new book out, called Fatal. He has stepped outside the comfort zone of his popular, long-running Dismas Hardy series, and this book is being touted as a stand-alone, although I'm wondering if it's more of a testing of the waters. The detective in this book, Beth Tully, is an engaging and memorable character, and I could see Lescroart basing a new series on her, if the reaction is positive. I personally liked her a lot, and would read another book if she was the star; her partner was fun, too, although he needs some more development, and I likewise enjoyed her interactions with her daughter, her new love interest, and his anorexic sister. They were all keepers.

In Lescroart's other books, San Francisco is almost more a character than a setting, and that is true here, as well. He does a great job of taking you around the city and reminding you about its special qualities, neighborhoods, and landmarks, and with a new detective, he has the opportunity to explore different facets of the city, to good effect.

On the other hand...disliked the protagonist, Kate (if that's what you would even call her--I'm still confused about that), from the moment I met her, and I think Lescroart, consciously or unconsciously, manipulates the reader to do that, with a moral undertone that seemed excessively heavy-handed. 

The book begins with Kate's story. She is happily, though somewhat complacently, married to Ron, and has never stepped outside her marriage; but at a dinner party hosted by Ron's law firm partner and his wife, Kate meets a new friend of theirs, Peter, and is completely overcome by an inexplicable but powerful desire. She can't put him out of her head, and finally follows her impulse to pursue a one-time liaison with Peter. She quickly decides that cheating on Ron was a mistake, and recommits herself to her marriage; but the consequence of her rash action is that Peter, who was also in something of a rut, decides he's not interested in recommitting to his. His subsequent behavior lead to serious consequences for Peter and for those involved with him (most of whom I also disliked!).

At this point in the story, a cataclysmic event occurs that is mostly unrelated to these two people's quandaries, and when the story picks up afterwards, it's six months later, and the story now belongs almost entirely to Beth Tully.

I found this a weird and jarring disconnect. It seemed like Lescroart wrote it this way to divorce you from the previous scenarios, hoping you would forget about some isolated pieces of information that seemingly led nowhere. But one of the things you learn if you are an inveterate mystery reader is that the author doesn't mention anything without a purpose, so if something comes up and then is left hanging there without further comment for the rest of the book, it's bound to be significant. In this instance, when it becomes clear, two-thirds of the way through the book, that these things left hanging are connected to the mystery, then the reader who is paying attention comes to the inevitable conclusion—oh, that's the killer. At that point, reading the rest of it becomes an exercise in finding out how the author intends to reveal what you already think you know, which is a bit ho-hum compared to enjoying a mystery by which you are genuinely stumped.

Given that the "real" story took so long to get going, was a bit frustrating in the middle, and disappointed me in the end, I'd have to say that although Lescroart deserves kudos for trying something different, the next book needs to have a mystery as compelling as his new character (Beth, not Kate!) and his old novels.

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