Shamus Award–winning novelist Hightower temporarily abandons her series featuring Cincinnati single-mom PI, Sonora Blair (The Debt Collector, etc.), setting her latest in the picturesque town of Beaufort in the South Carolina low country. Narrated in the first person by 34-year-old unwed mother Georgie Smallwood, the oldest of three children of former Marine drill instructor Fielding Smallwood, this intensely involving study of family dysfunction examines the fallout of suppressed violence and the sins of the past. Confronted with the suspicious suicide of their mother, Georgie, her divorced sister, Claire, and their gay brother, Ashby, rendezvous at night over a couple of beers in their traditional meeting place, the Hunting Island lighthouse, and then at a bar. After their father is found dead from a fall down the lighthouse stairs the following morning, Claire is arrested on the testimony of a waitress who overheard her confess that she'd like to push him to his death. Lurking in the family's history is the Hardigree Incident (mirroring the real-life Ribbon Creek Incident), a 1956 scandal involving the forced night-march of a platoon of Parris Island, S.C., Marine recruits which resulted in the deaths of seven men. Fielding, the officer in charge of the camp at the time, is absolved of blame, but retires under a cloud. After his death, the matter surfaces again. Could someone from the camp have been blackmailing him? Hightower's labyrinthine narrative is overburdened with superfluous plot twists and characters, and the denouement, which comes almost as an afterthought, strains credibility. Still, the novel is distinguished by its driving prose, lyricism and psychological nuance. Agent, Aaron Priest. Author tour. (July 2)
Forecast:Will fans of PI Sonora Blair pony up for this more literary outing? Chances are many will, but this probably won't be a breakout book for Hightower.