MAGIC HOUR begins with Dr. Julia Cates maneuvering her way through the "cranky, stop-and-go traffic" of Southern California on her way to the courthouse, where she fears, in just a few hours, "The world would know the truth about her."
Cates is at the center of a huge case that combines the sensationalism of the O.J. Simpson trial with the emotional turmoil of the Columbine shootings. Cates's patient, a troubled teen, has killed herself and others, but Cates didn't see it coming. No matter what the outcome of the case, Cates worries that she will be branded incompetent. And, unfortunately, she's right. Dismissed from the complaint, she hopes to get beyond the incident by going back to what fills her days --- "helping others" --- but all her previous clients have abandoned her in the wake of the trial's publicity.
Meanwhile, in Rain Valley, a small western Washington town where everyone knows everyone else by first name, Ellie Barton, local sheriff and former homecoming queen, is dealing with a stranger --- a child who suddenly appeared in the town square. A child who is mute, who appears to have been abused, and whom no one is claiming as their own.
Julia Cates and Ellie Barton are sisters, somewhat estranged. But the mystery child, later dubbed "Alice," brings them back together when Ellie calls on her younger sibling to help unravel the enigma that emerged from the woods one day.
"Magic Hour" is a phrase used to describe "the moment in time when every leaf and blade of grass seemed separate, when sunlight burnished by the rain and softened by the coming night, gave the world an impossibly beautiful glow." Each of the main characters in MAGIC HOUR has lost that glow.
Julia, an awkward bookworm of a child in a gregarious family, grew up on the periphery and left home as soon as she was of age to pursue school and a career. Her profession, child psychiatry, became her only companion.
Ellie, beautiful and a fool for love, married multiple times. Each union failed, leaving her feeling empty and unfulfilled.
Max, the handsome unattainable resident doctor in Rain Valley, has a mystery all his own that he tries to escape through meaningless affairs and daredevil sports.
And then there is Alice, who lives in a world where the light hasn't shone for many years.
The internal dialogue of all these characters, including Alice's broken thoughts, hints at the fragile state of each and slowly, page after page, reveals their secrets and pains. The mystery of what happened to little Alice helps to turn the page, but it is secondary to the development of the characters, their relationships, and the ultimate resiliency of each. The human spirit is character number one, fully tested in MAGIC HOUR in so many ways, with an outcome for all that speaks of the strength of hope and love.
Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara on September 21, 2010