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MisfortuneReview - Misfortune
A Novel
by Nancy Whitman Geary
Warner Books, 2001
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Nov 6th 2001 (Volume 5, Issue 45)

Murder on Long Island. The lives on the rich and powerful people who live in the Hamptons are laid bare. A new novel dishes the dirt. As a somewhat unenthusiastic resident of Long Island, I was looking forward to this. But I was rather disappointed, I have to say. Misfortune is a pretty standard detective novel. It is true that most of the action takes place in Suffolk County, New York, but I didn't get much of a feel for life in Southampton. Indeed, the plot is a little reminiscent of a TV detective show from the 1970s.

Clio Pratt is the designated murderee. Everyone hates Clio apart from her wealthy and now wheelchair bound husband, Richard, and they all will benefit from her death. Once the murder takes place, (readers who like me were wondering if it was ever going to happen after I'd got past the first hundred murderless pages will be glad to know it eventually happens on Saturday July 4 -- so it must be set in1998), it turns out that everyone also had the means and opportunity to commit the crime. Before the crime we see into the lives of each of the main characters, but after the crime we stick with Richard's daughter Frances, who happens to be a Suffolk County prosecutor. She hated her step-mother Clio too, but since we are given access to Frances' inner thoughts and she doesn't know who did the deed, it's pretty certain that it wasn't her. For most of the novel my main suspect was the most unlikely candidate, Clio's husband, Richard, but I was wrong.

Even though Frances' job does not include homicide, she can't leave the case alone. She drives around interviewing all the suspects, and keeps on being told by her unsympathetic boss that she should stay out of it. We see into the lives of her sister and mother, and the rich people at the country club who came to bear grudges against the insufferable Clio. We see petty squabbles, arrogance, discrimination, and incredible extravagance. None of them is an attractive character, and it's hard to rule out any of the suspects on the grounds that murder would be beyond them.

By the end, a murderer is produced, of course, but it's seems that the last twenty pages could be rewritten to give any number of different endings. Frances could in future novels become a gritty female detective in the tradition of V I Warshawski, but here she seems mostly lost and tired. She isn't eccentric enough a character to win over the reader to her side -- she just seems tired and unhappy.

Still, it's a fast pace and a satisfying enough ending. The novel has a strong psychological side with its focus on the bitterness caused by Clio's lifelong nastiness, and there are a couple of psychiatric settings that might especially appeal to readers of Metapsychology.

© 2001 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life. He is available to give talks on many philosophical or controversial issues in mental health.


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