Locust Lane by Stephen Amidon book review
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Over the past three decades, Stephen Amidon has produced a series of novels as compulsively readable as they are tough on such uncomfortable facts of American life as race, class, and money. His latest, Locust Lane, adheres to this strong tradition with the story of a young woman murdered in the affluent Boston suburb of Emerson and the ugly truths about some of its elite residents that come to light. after the murder.
The victim is 20-year-old Eden Perry, who had a history of shoplifting and sketchy boyfriends, although she had recently started working as a live-in for an elderly couple, “country club types”, who are distant relatives. Eden’s mother, Daniela, agreed to the deal so she could get a much-needed break from her kind-hearted but troubled daughter. But after Eden’s death, Danielle discovers that her daughter had bonded with some of the local high school students by throwing parties while her employers were away. On the night of the murder, three of these children were with Eden.
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The police immediately focus on Christopher Mahoun, whose father, the Lebanese immigrant Michel, runs a fancy restaurant in town. Christopher had an unrelenting crush on Eden, and he admits he stayed with her after the other two teenagers, Jack Parrish and Hannah Holt, had left. But Jack and Hannah are hiding something about that night, too—indeed, it seems everyone at Emerson harbors a guilty secret, carries the scars of past emotional trauma, or both. They don’t devolve into caricatures because, as in his previous books, Amidon creates fully fleshed-out characters who are by no means admirable, or even particularly likable, but always distinctly human.
He skillfully unfolds his story through five sets of distraught adult eyes, opening with an unwitting witness to the aftermath of the murder, who is reluctant to go to the police because he wasn’t exactly sober at the time. Patrick, in the process of drinking from his job at a wealth management firm, bonds with Daniela through their shared grief; his daughter died two years ago from drugs and he still hears her voice talking to him. Danielle provides an outsider’s perspective on Emerson to complement the accounts of Hannah’s stepmother Alice and Jack’s mother Celia, inner women and early best friends who fall out when Alice concludes that it was Jack , not Christopher, who killed Eden. Alice has never been happy about Hannah dating Jack, especially after learning that his parents had paid off a previous girlfriend who accused him of being rough with her.
Celia’s husband, Oliver, is one of Emerson’s richest and most powerful men, and when he learns that Alice is accusing their son, he takes a ruthless revenge, exposing her past and an ongoing affair with Michelin which blows up her marriage to Hannah’s father. . Celia justifies this by telling herself that they have to protect Jack, doing her best to repress the unpleasant memories of her son’s volatile inner life. Michel provides the fifth point of view, slowly realizing how tenuous his position is at Emerson as it becomes increasingly clear that his son will be charged with murder.
“Michel, let me explain something to you,” says Christopher’s lawyer. “A white girl was just murdered in a three million dollar house in a country where there is one murder per decade. Someone will have to be blamed for this, and soon. The only mysteries these people allow are the ones they control.”
Racist social media comments about Christopher make it clear that, although he is the son of a French-educated Maronite Catholic, he might as well be a Muslim terrorist as far as Emerson is concerned; a brown guy makes a far more attractive culprit than a white scion of privilege. But Christopher also has secrets, and Amidon delivers twist after twist as the revelations about what really happened that night become more sordid and sad. He weaves the reader’s suspicions between characters while deftly planting clues about the actual killer in plain sight.
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Yes, we find out whodunnit – and it’s a great aha! moment — but this does not necessarily mean that the perpetrator will be caught or punished. Amidon’s decidedly bleak ending sends several characters to grim fates they only partially deserve and shows that justice is not being served. A poignant final scene, seasoned with a tinge of mysticism that comes as a surprise from a writer known for gritty realism, offers readers a ray of hope. It can’t fully illuminate the pervasive darkness with which Amidon so skillfully shrouds Emerson and its inhabitants, but it reminds us that even flawed human beings are capable of surprising acts of generosity and redemption.
Wendy Smith is the author of Real Life Drama: Group Theater and America, 1931-1940.
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