Sunday, August 28, 2011
LONG GONE by Alafair Burke (2011) Harper Collins, 349 pages
I found my way to Alafair Burke's books a couple of summers' ago when my friend Jeff saw me reading THE TIN ROOF BLOWDOWN by James Lee Burke (which Ian Rankin claimed was one of his favourite novels that season) and told me his daughter also wrote fabulous crime fiction. So, first I read the Samantha Kincaid series and then the Ellie Hatcher series. Devoured them, really. Of course I was delighted to discover Burke's first stand alone novel, LONG GONE, published this Spring. I am a devoted and loyal fan of her smart and topical writing.
Set in New York City, ostensibly today, when long-serving neighborhood establishments seem to disappear overnight thanks to the fickle economy, LONG GONE grounds itself in the reality of losing your job without notice. Not because you did it poorly, but because the market no longer exists or because your boss is corrupt and feckless.
Months after a layoff from the development office at the Metropolitan Museum of Art--a plum post for any art history grad--Alice Humphrey finds herself in the remarkable position of being offered a job managing a new little gallery in Manhattan's trendy Meatpacking District. There is a catch, of course, according to Drew Campbell, the corporate rep who hires her: the first show must be by the untalented paramour of the gallery's eccentric, anonymous owner. Even with this caveat, Alice seizes the opportunity to carve a professional path for herself out from underneath the shadow of her famous father, a controversial actor.
In spite of the bizarre and controversial subject matter of the first show, work is going swimmingly for Alice, until the day she arrives at the gallery to find the walls stripped bare and Drew Campbell's corpse on the floor. And, when the police show her a photograph of what seems to be her and Drew in a clinch, kissing, Alice realizes that her world is about to unravel.
With twists and turns and compassion doled out in equal measure, LONG GONE had me flipping pages well into the early morning hours. Like Alice, I became increasingly alarmed by the long-hidden secrets that are gradually revealed. Those secrets involving Alice's family, it seems, might end up costing her her life.
A more discerning reader than me might have figured out the clues that Burke buries throughout the narrative. And, for her ability to make me feel almost up to the challenge of solving the enigmatic backstory, I give Alafair Burke full credit for producing such a compelling tale, so cleverly told.