Detective story features nice characters, little else

  • By Mike Fischer Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
  • Friday, July 23, 2010 10:11am
  • Life

“As Husbands Go” by Susan Isaacs, $25

Susie Gersten, the heroine of Susan Isaacs’ latest novel, lives in a handsome, well-appointed redbrick Georgian on Long Island. She has been happily married for 14 years to Jonah, a Yale-educated and highly successful plastic surgeon.

She has 4-year-old triplets, but with two live-in au pairs to watch them and a full-time maid minding the house, she finds time to run a floral design business.

Because Isaacs is writing a novel rather than a puff piece, you know the other shoe — and in Susie’s case, there are many pairs to choose from — must eventually drop.

Before she has finished telling us about her Egyptian cotton sheets and Carrara marble floors, Susie learns that her husband has been stabbed to death in the apartment of an escort named Dorinda Dillon.

But Susie refuses to accept the obvious. Maybe it’s because she thinks Dorinda “looked like a ewe in a blond wig.” Maybe it’s because “Jonah’s demise at a call girl’s apartment would be taken to mean that Susie hadn’t been able to satisfy him.”

Maybe it’s even because Jonah truly was as good a man as Susie tells us he was, but I’m not buying it, especially after Susie mentions in passing that Jonah was capable of a “flash of temper — rage, almost — when I’d said or done something to hint that maybe he had a flaw or two.”

Maybe, deep down, Susie actually wanted out of her picture-perfect marriage?

“Of course I had an anxiety or two,” Susie confesses. “Like knowing how fourteen years of marriage can take the edge off passion.”

Isaacs keeps Susie busy solving Jonah’s murder, turning what could have been an insightful look at a midstream marriage into a clumsy paint-by-numbers detective story, served up with an obligatory red herring that has a very fishy smell.

Two things keep the reader going.

First, Susie can be funny, in a broad and neurotic way that not only produces vivid caricatures of those around her, but also willingly — even compulsively — exposes her own obsessions, particularly with clothes.

Second, there’s the irreverent Ethel O’Shea, Susie’s still-glamorous grandmother, who flies in from Miami Beach to aid Susie in her sleuthing.

Ethel is easy to like, but she is no angel. She walked out on Susie’s grandfather. Two bad marriages later, she is in a relationship with Felicia, whom she describes as “the love of my life.”

“Life goes on, toots,” Ethel tells Susie on the last page of the novel. Maybe so, but Isaacs hasn’t done enough to convince me that Susie has figured out what to live for. Rescuing her husband’s good name may salvage her neatly manicured life. But that would never be enough for Ethel, and it won’t be enough for most readers.

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