February 26, 2010

BOOKS: Secrets of Eden, Chris Bohjalian (2010)

It strikes me that in his mix of melodramatic mystery and hot-button social issues, Bohjalian is essentially Jodi Picoult with a slightly heavier veneer of respectability. And I say that with no slight intended to either author; the potboiler has a long history in American lit, and there have always been lots of readers who take great joy in them. This is not a bad thing.

This time, the central character is a minister in southern Vermont who undergoes a crisis of faith when one of his parishioners is killed by her husband in an apparent murder-suicide. He is approached by a successful author of vaguely New Agey books about angels, who happens to be in the area on a book tour at the time of the deaths (because successful authors are always stopping by the many metropolises of southern Vermont on their book tours, don'cha know?) and thinks she can be of assistance. It's not long before the police begin to suspect that the suicide part of that murder-suicide might not have been suicide after all, and everyone's suddenly a suspect.

If you're already a Bohjalian fan, you'll probably enjoy this one, too. But if you're new to his writing, this isn't the place to start, if only because the angel author is either (if she genuinely believes the stuff she says about angels in her life) a seriously deluded lunatic or (if she doesn't) happily taking advantage of emotionally fragile people; either way, it's hard to have much sympathy for her. I'd suggest Midwives or Water Witches as a better starting place for the Bohjalian newcomer.

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