cover image Scarlet in Blue

Scarlet in Blue

Jennifer Murphy. Dutton, $27 (384p) ISBN 978-0-593-18346-5

Murphy’s convoluted sophomore effort (after I Love You More) follows a mother and daughter as they settle in Michigan after years of moving from one town to another while fleeing a man known only as “HIM.” In 1968, artist Scarlet Lake has Blue, her 15-year-old daughter, choose her latest alias from a crayon box. A talented pianist, Blue is nonetheless forbidden from playing in front of strangers lest they remember her and accidentally tip off the man Scarlet claims is after them. This doesn’t stop Blue from making friends or taking piano lessons with Mr. Kline, who enters her into a big-deal contest. Blue, meanwhile, starts to suspect her mother might be schizophrenic and running from nothing. The truth is elusive, but there are hints that Scarlet might have actual reasons to be afraid. Murphy keeps up the momentum and tension through the first two acts, which read mostly as the darkness-tinged coming-of-age tale of an artist with a sick mother. Unfortunately, the story goes completely off the rails with one ridiculous twist after another as Blue leaves town for the piano contest and Scarlet sets in motion a dangerous plan. What could have been an appealing bildungsroman is sunk by a failed thriller plot. (Mar.)