I admit I don't know much about the "suspense" category of fiction. To me, THE PROMISES SHE KEEPS seemed to be a cross between mystery and fantasy. Not a thriller peopled with cops and spies and chase scenes, but an increasingly entwined story of not-quite-ordinary characters living in a coastal town in Oregon. Okay, so police eventually get involved, but they're never named and hardly needed. Much of the suspense revolves around quirky characters and otherworldly forces including those categorized as flora.
Erin Healy has researched at least five fields to build her story. Chapter one introduces one main character. Chase is a young adult with autism who's obsessed with the Bible he's memorized and with trees; he comprehensively knows their names and characteristics and intently draws them --- always with a white medium on a black background --- as if they had human characteristics and even represented specific individuals, even people he hadn't yet met. In chapter two we meet Promise, a college student who is a talented, rising-star singer despite her handicap of cystic fibrosis, which severely curtails her lung function and portends a short life span. Chapter three draws out the life and times of Porta, new to town as proprietor of an art gallery that is on the edge of "out there": "After devoting more than six decades of her life to mastering the magical arts, Porta Cerreto didn't need a spell or an incense or a ritual in order to have a vision."
Did I mention five fields of research? That's autism, white-on-black drawings, trees, cystic fibrosis and sorcery.
The writing is good, and the narrative is suspenseful as promised. Healy provides well-placed and unobtrusive details that provide texture. A minor complaint: I sometimes yearned for a few more signposts in conversation. Who's talking here?
Healy weaves her good-versus-evil plot from the families, friends and acquaintances of her three main characters. The connections start to become evident when we discover that Porta's son, Zach, is the artist for whom Promise poses along a rickety rail fence on a bluff above the coast --- the key drama of chapter two. The railing breaks; Promise falls 40 feet but is hardly hurt. She wants to think that's the end of the story --- in terms of her and Zach, say nothing of Porta whom she's never met --- but of course it isn't. Porta is looking for a goddess figure who will prove to be immortal. She's convinced she's found the one --- in Promise, who uncannily survives other mishaps. And then of course there's Chase, who insinuates himself into their lives, talking of trees and truth and life and death. And teaches his fellow characters and us readers something about the meaning of love.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on February 8, 2011