Thursday, December 12, 2013
By LLOYD FERRISS
Marcia Leonard's novel has an intriguing plot and writing that sparkles. The book's a winner in my opinion, and I think you'll agree with that assessment.
"FINGERPRINTS: A MYSTERY SUSPENSE NOVEL" By Marcia Leonard. Passionate Writer Publishing. 212 pages. $14.95.
A chemist-turned-fiction writer living in Falmouth, Leonard accurately describes her own 212-page work.
"Fingerprints," she writes, "is a murder/suspense novel with a love story -- and a multiple personality disorder thrown in."
It's an altogether fascinating story set in the fictional Maine country town of Bowdoin Harbor. That's where Julie Cushman is a struggling real estate agent saddled with the full-time responsibility of caring for an adult son, Jeff, who has the mind of an 8-year-old. It's the dead of winter when her unsuspecting son is charged with murder for the stabbing death of a plastic surgeon new to town.
Winter is important to the novel. Every event in Leonard's book unfolds in this grim Maine season, and while Julie tries to clear her son's name, winter bears down oppressively.
Shortly after young Jeff's imprisonment, for instance, Julie awakens during a nighttime blizzard and power outage. Her mind jumps instantly to her son's plight.
"The plow woke me up in the night," Leonard writes from her character's point of view, "the familiar ... crashes and scrapes, the flashing red lights and occasional glare of headlights shining in through my window."
When she discovers that her room is cold and the electricity is off, she again thinks of her son: "I didn't know how far the outage went, but the jail should have generators. Jeff wouldn't be lying there cold."
When Julie drives to Boston following leads as to who really killed plastic surgeon Dr. Blakeley, it's grim winter all over again. "Boston had the same snow as Bowdoin Harbor," Julie narrates. "Big lumps of frozen slush still cluttered the parking spaces, and when I finally found a space I had to rev my car up over the humps and then slam on the brakes."
The effectively told love story is a slow-simmering romance between long-divorced Julie and Clark Horowitz, a Bowdoin Harbor lawyer to whom Julie turns for help. Clark is married, as far as Julie knows. But it's complicated. Suffice to say that the subplot featuring multiple personality disorder is on Clark's side of the table.
Another thing that really turns me on to this novel is the creative and totally effective way Leonard narrates her story. The name of a character -- there are only three of primary importance -- appears at the top of every chapter and the book's epilogue. When it's Julie, she's the first-person narrator who tells what's happening from her point of view. Clark does the same, and so does Liz, a self-made woman from a hardscrabble childhood who graduates from the University of Southern Maine.
The author who put all this together grew up in New York City, where she started writing stories while still in her teens. When her father objected to her plan to study English in college, she decided to major in chemistry.
She'd always done well in sciences and, according to Leonard, it all worked out because "I not only got a good job after I graduated, I married the guy I met in the laboratory!"
And Leonard continued to write. She lived in France for three years, then moved to Maine. Her e-book novel "The Jaguar" won a prize in a national contest. Then came "Fingerprints." Now she's writing another, called "The Scroll," which is set in Israel and Afghanistan.
One fault with "Fingerprints" are the hard-to-believe super-sleuth abilities that Leonard gives to Julie, especially when it comes to gaining information from people who, if this were real life, would probably shut doors in her face. But Julie not only interviews Dr. Blakeley's widow, she becomes her friend as well. In Boston, she walks into the plastic surgery office where Blakeley used to work and talks at length with his partner. It's enough to make Woodward and Bernstein jealous.
A small point perhaps. This book is unquestionably a page-turner.
Lloyd Ferriss is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Richmond.