Reviews and updates from Amber Foxx, author of the Mae Martin Psychic Mystery Series
The plot is so tightly woven I can’t say much about it without giving something away. After I finished, I kept reflecting on various scenes and realizing how perfectly they set up the end, and how masterfully each character had been plotting, as well as the author. Every scene has a goal, and it’s the character’s goal in service of the author’s goal, perfectly aligned. The reader never once senses the author at work. I went back over the book a second time to study the craft, but while I was reading it the first time, there was only the spell of the story. The Boston settings, the inner workings of the courts, state politics, a DA’s office, a defense practice, and the news media covering them are portrayed with an insider’s knowledge.
Rachel North, a Harvard law student in her thirties preparing for a second career, is the primary character. As a first person narrator, Rachel isn’t telling the reader a story. The reader is inside Rachel’s head as she’s telling herself a story. My first impressions of Rachel weren’t positive, but her occasional humor and her intensity kept me engaged. She’s driven. Her lack of a healthy ego, a sense of self, or an inner life, combine to make her obsessed with work and accomplishments and how others perceive her. She seems to live on a tightrope of proving herself or proving something to herself, even in her marriage. By the end, I understood why. Understood why she finally seemed strong and confident when she did something in her internship that was out of line, confronting a man she once worked for and once worshiped.
Ryan doesn’t dig into Rachel’s early life in order to explain her, a good choice. We meet Rachel as she is, attracted to powerful older men, and determined to become a defense lawyer like her husband, Jack Kirkland. He’s so good he’s on the ‘murder list’—one of the lawyers assigned to those accused of murder who can’t afford their own attorneys.
His nemesis is district attorney Martha Gardiner, and this prosecution-defense antagonism is part of an extraordinary triangle with Rachel—as Martha’s intern—at its apex.
Ryan skillfully does things most writers can’t pull off. She changes from first person present tense to the same narrator’s voice in the past tense and then back to the present, and she eventually widens the lens to take in Jack’s and Martha’s points of view in third person past tense. But with all these shifts, Ryan never has to retell anything in the next point of view. Everything is revealed in the order of the unfolding of events, legal and psychological, from the most effective point of view. There’s a reason she broadens the scope to take the reader outside of Rachel’s head exactly when she does.
By the end, Rachel has what might be called an inner life of sorts and an identity, finally, not attached to any man. But this isn’t what it sounds like. Nothing in this book is what it starts out seeming to be. Nothing.
Note: I read an advance review copy. The book comes out in August.