Louise Shaffer, Author . Random $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-375-50852-3

Three elderly white Georgia women, all named Margaret, share a deep friendship and a dark secret in this winning debut by actress and television writer Shaffer. For reasons not entirely clear even to her, Laurel Selene McCready has inherited her mother's grudge against "the three Miss Margarets," upstanding icons in rural Charles Valley. Returning home drunk late one night, she spies the three ladies congregating unaccountably in a deserted cabin. The body of Vashti Johnson, a renowned African-American geneticist who had returned to Charles Valley to visit her mother, is soon discovered in the cabin, prompting an investigation by the police, as well as by Laurel Selene and her new boyfriend Josh, a journalist who's writing a book about Vashti. As the three Miss Margarets struggle with how much to reveal about Vashti's life and death, they also reflect on their own longtime intimacy and on the race hatred in their community that led, decades ago, to a series of ghastly crimes. Shaffer's achievement is making each Miss Margaret a complex character with a fiercely guarded interior life. She doesn't belabor the social forces that defined the lives of these doyennes; instead, she gradually reveals Dr. Maggie Harris's lesbian love life, Margaret (Li'l Bit) Hanning's decadelong affair with a redneck gardener and Peggy Garrison's embattled domestic arrangement. Sometimes Shaffer leans too much on heavy-handed foreshadowing, and the secondary characters are thin, especially Laurel Selene and Josh. Yet the three Miss Margarets are wholly imagined, rich creations whose reticence speaks volumes about their time and place. Agent, Eric Simonoff. Author tour. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 02/10/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
Hardcover - 472 pages - 978-0-7862-5547-4
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 237 pages - 978-0-345-47864-1
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-375-76088-4
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