FEBRUARY 2000 | VOL. 4, NO. 2
Like last month's review, Ocean Court, Marianne Wesson's second book A Suggestion of Death boasts a promising basic plot and inventive writing. Howver, once again, a good editor would have made a better-than-average novel better-than-good. The similarities don't end there: both are written by practising lawyers who have a very good grasp of legal procedure and language, and both are strong on the courtroom -- or, in this case, law office -- scenes.
Wesson's book tells of a lawyer whose firm is relatively young and not overburdened with work. Seeking a bit of promotion, she agrees to answer questions on a radio phone-in -- what did small-town radio stations do before phone-ins were invented? -- and finds herself answering a question on intimate torts. Intrigued by the questioner, she agrees to meet her and finds that the caller is the daughter of a prominent local professor and candidate for public office, who believes, though she cannot remember clearly, that her father may have damaged her in some unspecified way. The statute of limitations means that if the truth is ever to be discovered in court, it is vital that an action is lodged soon, but without evidence how can it be?
So far so good. There is an intriguing problem which this reader felt warranted a second cup of coffee and a long think, but failed to arrive at the inventive answer that Wesson has. Unfortunately, it arrives on page 281 of a 438-page book. A smart editor would have told Wesson to get the foot on the gas at this point rather than looping into a discursive style that wasn't there before.
If anything, the plot slows after its turning point, with 11 pages devoted to a trip to a health farm in which nothing happens that couldn't have taken place in familiar surroundings a lot quicker. Being under an obligation to review the whole book, and not just the first two-thirds of it, your reviewer resisted the temptation to heave the book behind the chair and pick up something interesting, and was rewarded after fifty pages or so when it got back on track. It is open to the allegation that the action which introduces the ending is contrived and involves a disproportionate reaction from person or persons unknown to a threat which should -- to them at least -- have appeared containable; and that the moral question which underpins it (is the truth worth pursuing at any cost over any distance?) is dealt with sketchily when Wesson had set us up for a rip-roaring encounter between the protagonists.
There is nothing wrong with the prose in A Suggestion of Death, and the heroine is a likeable and very human woman whom I'd like to meet again. Wesson's plot is clever, bringing in militiamen in the mid-West and a curious client who wants to contest a conviction on no apparent grounds at all, and there are characters who appear well-rounded and engaging. Against that, it is about fifty pages longer than it needs to be, the ending is too neat (but I can't tell you why without spoiling it for you) and there was a missed chance for some sharp dialogue near the end.
I have not read Marianne Wesson's first book, Render Up The Body, but I will. The lady can write and she can tell a tale, and that is important. Too many people who write books cannot do either.
Note: for reasons which no doubt seem good to publishers, A Suggestion of Death has been published in the UK and is out as a paperback before it hits the bookstores of the US.
GRAHAM BRACK, a pharmacist by day, is the staff book reviewer for Renaissance Online Magazine. He lives in Cornwall, England.