Fathers. For those of us who enjoy good relationships with them, our dads are a reliable source of strength, the invincible heroes of our youth, and the champions of our childhood dreams.
For those with somewhat-less-than desirable relationships, it’s quite another matter, of course--more like a minefield of conflicting emotions and a past strewn with less-than-stellar memories.
The reality, for most people, probably lies somewhere in between. Our heroes may be a bit worse-for-wear, bearing the odd scrapes and scars on their not-quite-shining armor. Nothing--and no one--in life is perfect... not even our dads.
Still, aside from some very poor examples of fatherhood, most of us are happier for having them in our lives than not. So much so, in fact, that even if we feared the worst and were faced with incontrovertible evidence of a grave misdeed perpetrated by our father figures--some transgression nearly impossible to accept and forgive--there’s still a good chance that the father-child bond would hold.
None of us really wants to contemplate having to deal with the sins of our fathers, of course... but in Alafair Burke’s new standalone novel, Long Gone, one woman is forced to do just that.
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To Alice Humphrey, it seems her life is at an all-time low. Sure, she lives in New York City, with access to just about anything under the sun. She has a close girlfriend who offers ready emotional support, plus an on-again/off-again relationship with a very nice guy who also lends emotional support, in addition to other types of “comfort” (during the “on-again” times, at least).
She’s been jobless for several months now, though--another victim of budget cuts during the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recent bout of layoffs. She has plenty of education under her belt, but no one is really hiring anyone for... well, any of the limited things which all that formal learning has left her qualified to do. She could go to her wealthy (and famous) parents for help, if absolutely necessary--but since breaking the apron strings several years ago, she’s not about to do that. (A recent scandal, during which she--and the rest of the world--found out that her Oscar-winning, movie-director father had engaged in numerous flings over the years--is still painfully fresh in her memory, and her alcoholic, former-actress mother’s willingness to put up with such behavior doesn’t help matters any.) There are long-standing issues with her older brother, an ex-addict about whom Alice always has cause to worry, as well. What she needs is a sense of purpose, outside of herself and her family, once more.
When she’s approached at a small art exhibit one evening by a compelling stranger who introduces himself as Drew Campbell--and subsequently offers her a dream job, running a small gallery of her own--it all seems like a dream come true. But, over the next few days following their conversation--days in which she doesn’t hear a word from him--she chides herself for daring to believe for even a moment that it might have been true.
A supposedly-famous mystery client (the purported owner of this prospective gallery), whose identity she’s never to know? The owner’s (also anonymous) younger boyfriend, whose “art” the gallery would be compelled to show at regular intervals, regardless of merit or convenience? The more time Alice has to think about some of the details, the more bizarre it all seems.
Until, that is, Drew calls, informing her that plans are underway. Casting her apprehensions aside, Alice jumps on the offer, and almost before she knows it, the Highline Gallery is open for business.
She’s thrilled with her tiny new gallery in the Meatpacking District... it looks beautiful, and the location shows great promise. Or she’s thrilled, that is, aside from the work she’s forced to display in the opening show--a group of lurid photographs, courtesy of the owner’s curiously-absent boyfriend (whom Alice finds a singularly-untalented hack).
Even that may not be quite the issue she thought, though, when the gallery--to Alice’s immense surprise--makes hundreds of internet sales from those very photos within the first few days.
Less-fortuitous surprises soon follow, however. The first arrives in the form of religious protestors, who assemble outside the gallery, loudly claiming that the artist used minors in some of the nude photos. Everyone, from the protestors to the press, clamors for a statement from Alice, as the gallery’s manager. To her dismay, Drew is conspicuously incommunicado--thus, no help whatsoever--during the hubbub.
The second surprise--well, more of a shock, really--is much worse. After arranging to meet the prodigal Drew (who finally gets in touch with her) early at the gallery one morning, Alice arrives, only to be met with a completely cleared-out, papered-up building... and one very dead Drew, lying in a pool of his own blood on the otherwise-empty gallery floor.
And, for the coup de grace surprise? (This one’s a real humdinger.) Before long, a series of clues which Alice knows full well cannot be true lead the police to suspect her of the murder! Cleverly tying in her rich, influential father--certainly no stranger to scandals during his long professional career--and some of his friends (including the lawyer who has been Mr. Humphrey’s friend and legal adviser for more than half a century), the evidence against Alice and her family mounts.
When Alice realizes just how seriously the police are taking the evidence growing steadily against her, she feels she has no choice but to play detective, herself. She knows that someone, somewhere has to be orchestrating everything, because she’s being oh-so-ingeniously set up to take the fall... something which everyone with a badge seems curiously inclined to let her do.
What she finds, once she starts digging, scares the hell out of her. Is it true that her father was somehow behind the gallery job? And, if that is the case, what else might he have done... and why? What about those tawdry photos in the gallery--the ones supposedly created by an “artist” whom Alice never actually met, of people who were never identified... could those have something to do with her father’s own particular interest in “younger women”, as well?
Like it or not, Alice knows she’s going to have to get to the bottom of everything--every sad, depraved, disheartening thing--if she wants to stay out of prison for a crime she most definitely didn’t commit. If it takes ripping open one closet door after another, to rattle every disgusting skeleton inside, to ferret out the truth... that’s exactly what she’s going to do.
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Long Gone is an exercise in steadily-mounting terror--with an almost Hitchcockian buildup of tension--as we watch an innocent woman wander unwittingly into an unbelievable (and seemingly-impossible) situation far beyond her wildest dreams (or nightmares). Burke gives us a very likable and sympathetic character in Alice; despite being a child of such privilege, Alice isn’t subject to the kid-glove treatment from anyone. Rather, she’s a “normal”, independent woman--one who has forsaken the trappings of wealth and prestige, choosing instead to make her own way without any help. She has the same aspirations, copes with the same types of day-to-day problems, and faces the same disappointments as do the rest of us... until, that is, she crosses paths with the wrong people and circumstances.
There were a couple of times I found myself thinking, “Oh, surely not that, too!”, when the plot twisted around on itself yet again... but then I’d flash back to the old adage, “truth is stranger than fiction”, and I’d decide that yeah, maybe things really could happen that way, after all.
As for fathers? Well, you’ll just have to pick up this book to find out about them... but if you really like suspense and some wicked plotting, reading Long Gone will hardly be a chore.
GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 4 out of 5 mousies!
Note: Long Gone will be released June 21, 2011.