|April Henry: Buried Diamonds|
Dunne Books/St. Martin's Minotaur (Hardcover), ISBN 031230403X
Buried Diamonds, my first encounter with April Henry and her protagonist, Claire Montrose, provided a delightful diversion on a recent trip. Yet long after shutting the book, I find her use of stereotypes, especially when depicting homosexuals, discomforting.
The author sets up a win-win situation with likeable Claire, a 30-something woman living in the home of an energetic 80-something woman, Charlie. Charlie, who lost her husband and son to concentration camps during World War II, rescued the much younger Claire from an oppressive family situation. Together they made a new family.
Through a contrived coincidence, Claire finds an antique diamond ring hidden in a chink in a wall that she happens to lean against during her morning run. She brings the ring home and brandishes it under Charlie's nose. Amazingly Charlie knows the ring, its owner and the sad tale of the owner's suicide. But the more Charlie and Claire delve into the story of Elizabeth's death, the less it makes sense. Why would she hide the ring in the wall? The question drives the fifty-year-old mystery, uncovering many tightly held secrets.
A second story thread relating to hate crimes in Charlie's and Claire's neighborhood ultimately connects with Elizabeth's story, and everything gets neatly tied up in the end. But before the denouement, readers encounter a lengthy laundry list of social ills from hate crimes to parent-less children, to angry teenagers, elder care, aging, lonely old ladies and the shortage of old men who can drive at night, and a dash of homosexuality and impotence. Add to that Claire's long-distance romance with Dante and his trip to Portland to interview for a museum director's position, the reappearance of Charlie's beau from a half-century past, and the pages overflow with enough information and action to immerse readers into Claire's world.
The author includes a couple of scenes with laugh-out-loud situations that, although enjoyable, seem out of place and out of character. But they remain memorable. I still see Claire in the airport bathroom fighting with the automatic-flushing toilet.
In some respects Buried Diamonds recalls the old Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt gothics -- a good and not-so-good thing. Henry sets up an interesting plot, engaging characters and a Tudor house filled with death and secrets. Yet she falls back on some of those gothic stereotypes, including a deranged murderer whose motives result from social stigma.
The stereotypes disappointed me, but the book overall provides an enjoyable read. I look forward to reading the previous three books of the Claire Montrose series. The author tells a good story about two characters, Claire and Charlie, I look forward to knowing better.
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