|Sue Walker: The Reunion|
William Morrow (Hardcover), ISBN 0-06-072609-1
Reading Sue Walker's The Reunion, one cannot help but be reminded of the enormous influence Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine exerts on the modern British psychological thriller. For the most part, her influence has been an extremely beneficial one. There were British psychological thrillers of depth, literacy and interest before Rendell came along to transform the scene -- to cite one perhaps unexpected example, John Fowles's masterly The Magus. But thanks in large part to her example, books of merit almost qualify as the norm in this subgenre.
The Reunion falls smack in the Rendell/Vine mainstream. In general beautifully written (despite some odd Americanizations), the story follows three timelines: now, the recent past and the distant past. In the distant past -- 27 years ago, to be precise -- a bunch of dangerously maladjusted teenagers attended group therapy sessions in an Edinburgh (Scotland) clinic, the Unit, under the aegis of an R.D. Laing figure, Dr. Adrian Laurie. Following their "cure," the group members made a conscious effort to avoid each other, although three of their number exchange brief notes once a year, every November 8.
Innes is not one of those three. It alarms her to receive an answer-phone message one day from another group member, Abby -- her best friend back in the days of the Unit -- who sounds desperate. Innes cannot bring herself to respond. The next she learns that Abby has committed suicide by drowning. Delving deeper, she discovers that Danny, another group member, a few months ago likewise committed suicide by drowning.
Two similar deaths recorded as suicides might instead mean a pattern of murder. As much concerned for her own safety as anything else -- is someone purposefully setting out to drown Unit "alumni?" -- Innes makes an amateurish effort to uncover the truth.
Meanwhile Simon, another Unit "graduate," now a successful psychologist, must deal with the abduction and sexual molestation of his young daughter. Convulsed by guilt, he regards this as a punishment for what he and three of the others once did when they were in the Unit.
But what was that "something?" With excruciating slowness, over the course of the entire book, The Reunion reveals the dreadful secret.
Although certainly gripping and graced with splendid characterization, The Reunion proves less satisfying than it should be. Its problem lies in the fact that the only thing standing between the reader and the exposure of the secret is the author's deliberate refusal to tell us what went on. Most of the novel's central characters know the secret; but, any time they start to reveal it, the action shifts or they go all coy.
Eventually, this becomes just plain annoying, rather than tantalizing. The only central character who shares our ignorance is Innes, and it would be reasonable if we followed in her footsteps as she unraveled the truth. However, Innes's little burst of detection takes her almost nowhere. She discovers the secret only because other characters choose to tell her.
The Reunion is undeniably worth your time, and I'm certain you'll enjoy reading it. At novel's end, however, you may feel that you tasted a lot of delicious foodstuffs but without being allowed to eat any of them.
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