Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Erotic Suburban Mischief

The first sentence of The Blue Journal: A Detective Anthony Walker Novel by L.T. Graham is naked foreshadowing: "There was no reason for Elizabeth Knoebel to suspect that this was going to be the last day of her life." So by the end of Chapter 1 we've seen Elizabeth shot in the head by "the murderer."

Elizabeth is a lovely, sexy sociopath, the wife of a cold, distant, but affluent New York surgeon. She'd been seducing the men in her husband's marriage therapy group and describes the encounters on her laptop. These reflect her contempt for the men who she never names: "In the end, the greatest aphrodisiac for a man is the pleasure he thinks he has given his partner. This is the way to own him." "Confident men are often attractive men, a combination that makes them the easiest to seduce." "T proved to be an easy seduction. He's the sort of man who needs to feel he's in charge, the easiest sort to manipulate." Unfortunately for the novel's plausibility, Elizabeth seems to be pure malevolence. We never understand (or can infer) why she, who has looks, money, and a small talent to write porn, should be hell bent on destroying other people's lives.

What this means for Anthony Walker, formerly a New York cop, now a Darien, CT, detective, is that he has a plethora of suspects. Just about everybody who has had any contact with Elizabeth has a reason to kill her. The first challenge is to identify the men she's written about, which turns out to be a fairly simple matter. But there are other potential suspects: the therapist who is leading the marriage therapy group for the husbands, their wives, the town's First Selectman, her surgeon husband.

It means the novel is a puzzle that Walker has to solve. Readers who enjoy solving (or at least following along as the detective solves) a complex mystery will have a lot of fun with The Blue Journal. Other readers may be put off by the shifts in point of view and by actions of characters who have clearly never read or watched a mystery.

For example: "[Randi, the therapist] wanted to tell Walker about the anonymous note, about the threatening phone call she had just received, about her fears concerning several of her patients and Elizabeth Knoebel. But not yet, she decided. Not yet." To Graham's credit, she (he?) does not do what inexperienced mystery writers do when a character withholds information from the detective; she doesn't kill Randi off before she can tell Walker what she knows.

This is also a book for readers who enjoy passages from Elizabeth's journal like: "Oddly, there are very few men I have ever known who have the same curiosity about the physiology of the vagina that they have for their own equipment. They tend to view a woman's pussy as a goal to be achieved rather than part of a process to be enjoyed . . . "

Reportedly Graham is working on another Anthony Walker novel and will, with The Blue Journal experience behind her, overcome the challenges of point of view, motivation, and character development that limit this first effort.

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