All good and wonderful things must come to an end. COMPOUND FRACTURES marks the conclusion of Stephen White’s Dr. Alan Gregory canon, a reliably and quietly brilliant series that blurred the line between mystery and psychological suspense with book after book, year after year. One never knew quite what to expect when cracking the binding of White’s latest offering, other than that the tale within would be surprising and pleasing. And, yes, unforgettable. In some of the novels, Gregory, a psychiatrist in Boulder, Colorado, is a detached observer; in others, he is an active participant.
My favorite of the series is KILL ME, in which Gregory barely appears onstage but plays an extremely important role nonetheless. Still, all of the volumes have something in particular to recommend them. So it was that when White announced with the publication of LINE OF FIRE that the next Gregory book would be the last, there was some collective weeping and gnashing of teeth, with arguably none louder than in my own home.
"COMPOUND FRACTURES is one of White’s smartest novels. It is quite a send-off, ending, appropriately enough, with a mystery that is introduced in the final few pages and is left for the reader to solve, or at least to guess..."
And with that, we have COMPOUND FRACTURES, which picks up a few months after the events of LINE OF FIRE. White throws a lot at the reader at the beginning of the book, which is a bittersweet though exciting love letter of farewell to those who have followed the series faithfully. It presumes some familiarity with what has gone before, so those who have never read one of White’s novels would be best served by starting at an earlier point in the series. For the long-term faithful, however, this is a quietly disturbing romp through Gregory’s past as his present crumbles around him. White throws a lot at his readers in the first fourth of the book, and not all of it seems to make total sense, at least at first. My advice is to grab for and hang onto the narrative; your perseverance will be more than rewarded.
Those who read LINE OF FIRE will not have forgotten the chilling scene at the book’s conclusion in which Gregory’s wife, Lauren, was shot in his office by Gregory’s colleague and best friend in an apparent case of mistaken identity. What COMPOUND FRACTURES does is deconstruct and reconstruct everything that Gregory knows and believes. It could have been called BETRAYAL, but the title that White ultimately chose succeeds on multiple levels. In the aftermath of Lauren’s shooting, Gregory finds himself under vague investigation by Elliot Bellhaven, the Boulder district attorney, who was Lauren’s former boss. Gregory initially believes that Bellhaven is snooping around the suspicious death of a woman that occurred several years before in which Gregory had no involvement but some culpability.
The truth, however, is far more unexpected, and as a result, Gregory finds himself trapped in a box that is partially of his own creation. Worse, Gregory is doubting his ability to trust Sam Purdy, his best friend and a Boulder cop whose own investigation into a cold murder case will have ramifications that will unintentionally ripple, perhaps irrevocably, into Gregory’s life. The story is shot through with irony, particularly when it seems as if Lauren has also unintentionally provided him with the key that will unlock the box in which he has been placed. All he has to do is find it and figure out how to use it.
COMPOUND FRACTURES is one of White’s smartest novels. It is quite a send-off, ending, appropriately enough, with a mystery that is introduced in the final few pages and is left for the reader to solve, or at least to guess --- perhaps for now, perhaps forever. Either way, don’t miss this last mile of a deeply satisfying ride.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 23, 2013