Sunday, February 26, 2012

Damned If You Don't By Anita Page

DAMNED IF YOU DON'T By Anita Page I liked spending time with Hannah Fox, Anita Page's warmly human and admirably hardheaded heroine in DAMNED IF YOU DON'T (L&L Dreamspell). Hannah is a woman who looks at life with both rueful humor and intense sympathy for those who suffer. She's funny and smart, full of well-reasoned opinions and an awareness that she might be nuts. Although very conscious of her flaws, Hannah accepts herself and others with generosity of spirit. And the creature that returns this most consistently, in this mystery driven by complex human beings, is her dog, Brooklyn. Hannah is glad for the solace. She gets the world is a mess and wants to help fix it. And, in the process, take care of people close to her. Hannah's a grown-up, she does what she can. And in this mystery, it's that drive that makes her extraordinary. Like Marlowe, Hannah Fox puts one foot in front of the other, heart broken or not, sick and half dead doesn't matter, she's got a job to do. As DAMNED IF YOU DON'T opens, Hannah, living in a small town in the Catskills, is teaching a summer school writing class to a group of fairly troubled teens and volunteering at a shelter for battered women. Most of the time, she's trying not to think of her husband, who moved to the city for a job but has been unable to schedule weekend visits. Hannah's distractions multiply, when Joy, the grieving daughter of a deceased friend, is threatened with the loss of her property. The legal excuse is the town council's interpretation of common domain, which entails verification the property, as a "blight," should be confiscated. Then they are sold to the town's most prominent developer, who has friends and relations on the same council. Hannah is further outraged, when she learns that the developer has leaned on local handymen to refuse to work on the place. She's strategizing how to fight back, when she answers a call at the shelter from Mary, a pregnant woman under attack. At the sound of a gunshot the call's cut off and Hannah calls her police friend, Gundy, who organizes a search of the neighborhood of the call. They find nothing and Hannah is haunted by the fear in the woman's voice. Meanwhile, in her writing class, there's Bethany, who wears long sleeves to hide her bruises, a kid who needs help that she can accept. There's Matthew, talented, and edgy. At the Shelter, she wrestles with the Founder, Andrea, whose iron-clad political stance uncomfortably reminds Hannah of her own mother, a 60's political activist, too willing to sacrifice her daughter's feelings for her principles. When the Developer, the town manipulator is murdered, Hannah hopes it might mean Joy's troubles are over, before she learns the girl is a serious suspect. Because Hannah's in a small town where everyone knows each other business,she's able to trace back the threads of association--through the developer's Hollywood business partner, an ex wife. In the process. she uncovers the ugly reality of the abuse of power, beneath the serene Catskill beauty of the town. When Hannah organizes a demonstration for public support against the policy of common domain, she is heartened by much local support, before all hell breaks loose. Though Hannah is injured, she must see justice done. To achieve it in DAMNED IF YOU DON'T, Hannah has to address her own illusions; that yes, she must lock her doors, that her husband is unfaithful and she can't protect her son, that honesty is not always the best policy, that justice may be different than the law. But in the end she also finds that love has wisdom, as well as idiocy. This is a very satisfying debut. I look forward to the next Hannah Fox mystery.