The Wrong Woman by J.P. Pomare. Hachette. $32.99.
New Zealand-born, Australian-based writer J.P. Pomare has produced an intriguing detective novel, set in small-town America. The book contains many classic elements, brought together to great effect.
Firstly there is the private investigator, Reid, who describes himself as "perfectly forgettable" in appearance. A retired police officer, he returns to his hometown after many years' absence, to investigate an insurance claim. Many crime novels have the detective returning to a place he or she used to live, giving the reader a richer experience as the returnee notes changes, and falls back into former relationships. Reid's previous actions in straying from absolute loyalty to fellow police officers come back to affect him.
The novel is told in two voices, one of the detective and one of the driver in the accident that is the centre of his investigation, a woman called Eshana. The piecing together of a wider picture from these two perspectives means that the reader feels fully involved in the investigation. You work a little harder than when there is an omniscient narrator. (There is a short section from another voice opening the work, and the full significance of the prologue is only revealed near the end.)
The car accident where Eshana's husband has been killed is the pivotal event, and it is used to organise the way the characters' stories are presented. "Before" and "Now" are included as descriptions for most of the chapters, with "After" right at the end. The voices of Eshana and Reid are distinct and in the first person. Eshana seems almost too nice to be true, as she excuses her husband's behaviour, looking back over years. Whether this impression lasts to the end of the book is something I'll leave to the reader.
The seemingly straightforward (and well-paid) insurance investigation is quickly connected to the disappearance of two local girls. One is from the poorer area of the twin towns where the novel unfolds, and one is the daughter of a senior police officer. The different importance accorded to the disappearances brings out the way class and connection operate. The cost of medical care in the United States is a factor in the actions of one of the missing girls.
The title The Wrong Woman informs the reading. It sounds a kind of warning as we make our way through the book. Tantalising clues are discovered, such as a string of random words that may be significant, or may just be "bad poetry". There is even a possibility of romance for the damaged Reid. The bulk of the book unfolds at a reasonably leisurely pace, leading to an explosive ending.
Pomare's latest work is an engrossing tale of investigation and discovery, which will keep the reader fascinated to the end.
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