Review

The House on Sprucewood Lane

by Caroline Slate

Read an Excerpt



There's an inherent risk when a writer bases a work of fiction on
real-world events. The similarity might draw the reader in --- at
first --- but the event, particularly if it is a sensational one,
can often overshadow the novel in a way that it loses its identity
and becomes known around the water cooler as "the book that was
just like what happened when X did y to Z," with the author
regrettably but irretrievably forgotten. I could name a half-dozen
books like that, except I've forgotten their titles. And their
authors.

That isn't going to happen to Caroline Slate with her novel THE
HOUSE ON SPRUCEWOOD LANE. The "it" of the whodunit is, with a
couple of minor changes, the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. That's the
hook. What makes you want to not let go, even as you're being
dragged toward a lost weekend with this fine novel, is Slate's
approach to the crime, which soon has the reader immersed in the
author's world as opposed to the crime that took place in our
own.

Slate's JonBenet is Calista McQuade, a 10-year-old gymnast who is
widely regarded as having Olympic potential. When she is found
murdered in her parents' Westport, Connecticut home, it is a
classic "locked house" mystery, if you will. There is no lack of
suspects, however, as Calista's parents, Melanie and Tom McQuade,
and her brilliant but troubled 12-year-old brother, Jared, were all
in the house with her that night.

The approach most authors would have taken would be to present this
as a police procedural. That's not the case here. No, we see THE
HOUSE ON SPRUCEWOOD LANE through the eyes of Alexis Cavanaugh,
estranged sister to Melanie and aunt to Calista and Jared. When Lex
receives a plaintive transatlantic request from Jared to come to
the house, she drops everything and leaves her native England to be
by his side, even though she hasn't seen him for six years and the
parting with the family was less than amenable. Lex's last visit
with the McQuades was terminated by the discovery of her affair
with Tom; her presence in the household is, at first, less than
welcome. Matters are further complicated by the other dynamics of
her relationship with her sister.

Melanie and Lex were separated as children when their mother ran
off to England with her lover, unwillingly dragging Lex along with
her. The influence that their mother had upon Melanie and Lex
resonates and affects virtually everything they do, good and bad.
Lex, also, sees parts of herself in Jared, who was forever in his
younger sister's shadow and who made no secret of his resentment
towards her. Lex, like Melanie and Tom, feel protective of Jared;
the difference, however, is that it appears that Melanie and Tom
believe that Jared in fact murdered his sister. Lex is torn, at
times feeling that he was capable of such an act and at others
being unable to believe that he could carry it out. Lex does not
set out to solve the mystery of the murder, at least in the classic
sense, nor does she seek to exonerate Jared; she simply wants to
get at the truth of things. If the truth is that Jared killed his
sister, she wants to stand by him and get help for him; if he did
not, she wants to know so that...she'll know, and Jared will not be
blamed. The key to everything is ultimately Jared. She must win his
trust --- and Jared, confused by his own emotions, is unable trust
anyone.

THE HOUSE ON SPRUCEWOOD LANE is a very intelligent, smartly written
novel with a bit of a new twist in a genre that would seem to have
seen all of them. Slate's take on relationships, and how the
interplay among family members can haunt future generations, is
quite intriguing when set within the mystery genre. Her future work
will be worth perusing for that reason alone.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

The House on Sprucewood Lane
by Caroline Slate

  • Publication Date: July 1, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Mass Market Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Star
  • ISBN-10: 0743418891
  • ISBN-13: 9780743418898