Domestic mysteries are not necessarily known for their multiple
carnages. Yes, there might be a murder or two conducted off the
printed page, with the descriptive styles usually associated with
King or McBain kept at a minimum. THE ALPINE NEMESIS, the latest in
the Emma Lord series set in the Pacific Coast town of Alpine, makes
a break with that tradition.
THE ALPINE NEMESIS is the 11th in Mary Daheim's popular series.
Readers who are new to the series are quickly --- almost too
quickly --- introduced to the cast of characters who populate the
town and who work on The Alpine Advocate, the weekly
newspaper that Lord edits. As THE ALPINE NEMESIS opens, Lord is
facing competition from what the gone-and-forgotten Marshall
McLuhan would have characterized as "hot" media: a local radio
station that can report the news as it happens, unhampered by a
Tuesday afternoon deadline.
Things becomes heated with the occurrence of two grisly events: the
deaths of three members of a notorious local family and that of an
out-of-state snowboarder, whose body is discovered with theirs.
Lord, however, is not satisfied to simply report the news; she is
also driven to discover the whys and wherefores of the multiple
murders. It is ironic, then, that her personal life becomes
complicated as well. Tom Cavenaugh, Lord's erstwhile lover and the
father of her son returns in a big way: he proposes. And while this
news is not quite as big as that of the multiple homicides, both
stories are linked in ways that Lord, and Daheim's readers, will
never be able to predict.
While most domestic mysteries are formulaic, and comfortably so,
Daheim takes some major chances with THE ALPINE NEMESIS. And if
readers feel that the catalyst for the events in THE ALPINE NEMESIS
are far-fetched, I'd only note that among the many lessons that the
past few months have imparted to us is the proposition that major
events that manifest themselves in one place often have their
origins elsewhere. Thus an attack by terrorists upon what is
arguably the most majestic city in the world has its genesis in
small, forgotten cities in Florida and West Virginia, which are
normally ignored and/or unthought of by the general populace.
Illicit arms deals are not conducted in downtown Chicago or Los
Angeles or Philadelphia in city parks at high noon. No; the deeds
are done in the dark, off the beaten path of small towns. Given
that THE ALPINE NEMESIS was written and submitted for publishing
several months before September 11, Daheim's subject matter is, in
ways, somewhat eerily prophetic.
While first-time visitors to Alpine may not be tempted by THE
ALPINE NEMESIS to seek out earlier books in the series, Daheim's
lack of reticence to take chances with her stories, and characters,
will certainly keep readers new and old coming back to her future
work. One can only imagine what is next in store for Lord and her
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 20, 2011