SAFE IN HEAVEN DEAD

Samuel Ligon, Author . HarperCollins $23.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-009910-7

Though Ligon's opening sentence reveals the catastrophic fate of the main character, this debut suspense novel instantly seizes and holds the imagination, even when one knows the final outcome. Moving back in time over the course of a year, Ligon reveals the story of Robert Elgin, who leads a quiet suburban life with his wife, Laura, and their children, five-year-old Carrie and two-year-old Tommy, in Oakland County, Mich. Their marriage is calm on the surface, though Ligon masterfully reveals subterranean fault lines. Robert is working as a union negotiator for the county when a cabal of political power brokers convinces him to negotiate a dirty deal that will boost the fortunes of the county executive in his run for governor. Soon afterward, he learns that his 12-year-old neighbor has sexually abused his daughter. Robert encounters a legal and therapeutic system that seems designed to further victimize Carrie. He and Laura become estranged as she embraces this world of misguided therapists and overzealous support groups. A revelation about the corruption of the county executive pushes Elgin to his breaking point; he steals his boss's illegal health fund and flees to New York City, where he ends up alone and adrift ("He was free. He was dead. He was alive. He was a machine"). He hires Carla, a Faulkner-reading high-priced call girl from whom he desires only companionship, and with whom he quickly falls in love. They find themselves struggling with overwhelming questions of morality, responsibility and remorse. Their response is to embark on a high-rolling road trip across America that will eventually lead them in a great circle back to Michigan, where they attempt to confront their respective pasts and alleviate their guilt. Few readers will remain unmoved by the agonizing questions that drive this story, and the tragedy with which the book begins and ends. (Apr. 4)

Reviewed on: 03/10/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
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Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-06-009911-4
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