Web of relationships fine fodder for mystery

  • Fri Sep 17th, 2010 12:30pm
  • Life

By Oline H. Cogdill Sun Sentinel

”Fragile,” by Lisa Unger, $24

Family secrets, the legacy of violence and the fragility of relationships have emerged as some of the hot-button topics of the mystery genre.

Authors such as Laura Lippman, Harlan Coben and Linwood Barclay are showing that the inner workings of families are among our greatest mysteries of life, and make for thrilling plots.

Add to that list Lisa Unger, who in “Fragile” shows that the intricate family structure can topple with even the most gentle of pushes.

In her fifth novel, Unger keeps the energy level high as she skillfully looks at people striving to be good but fearing their dark side is winning and at the complexities of human nature.

The Hollows is a quiet town about 100 miles from New York, just far enough not to inherit its problems.

Here, everyone is “connected” to each other: Classmates marry, work with each other, love and hate each other. Kids grow up, move away but return, and pick up old habits and patterns they thought they left behind, “forever defined by your childhood relationships.”

Maggie Cooper, a psychologist who specializes in teens, knows all about that. She left for New York, but ended up back in the Hollows, married to police detective Jones Cooper, who she knew in high school, and the mother of Rick, a bright but rebellious 17-year-old.

Then Rick’s goth girlfriend Charlene disappears on the night they had a date planned. Did the girl, who “had a gift for creating damage that couldn’t be undone,” run away to New York after a fight with her mother or did something worse happen?

Jones remembers all too well when, more than 20 years ago, a girl he knew in high school disappeared and was later found murdered. Unger keeps the tension taut as she shows a microcosm of life in an insular town.

The author keeps the reader off-kilter by tainting each character with equal parts of guilt and innocence. Although “Fragile” is populated by nearly an entire town of characters, Unger makes each distinctive.

Relationships aren’t easy in “Fragile,” and the fears and connections the characters share are realistically explored.