Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Nora Gaskin's Until Proven

I read Nora Gaskin's Until Proven: A Mystery in Two Parts because it was a murder mystery set in the fictional town of Piedmont, North Carolina. It is Chapel Hill, really, though I must say I didn't think of Chapel Hill much as I read it, perhaps because my experience was all about graduate school and the novel only just barely touches on its fictional university (though academia does make an important cameo in an unflattering way!).

I liked this book, and would recommend it with one caveat. First the good stuff. As the title notes, it has two parts: one set in 1963 and one in 2003. Both involve the murder of a young woman, albeit in different circumstances, but both with racial implications (and, in fact, homosexuality in the first part). What I particularly like is how she deals with race. She evokes not only the civil rights movement and all the prejudices that went along with it, but also how what we might consider sympathetic whites used race to their advantage when it came to protecting themselves in a court case. There is a lot of nuance there. It is a really good story about the south in that sense.

My caveat is the murder mystery part. Read it as fiction rather than as mystery because that part isn't so satisfying. There are two murders. Without spoiling much, one is unsolved and one is solved but without so much mystery. I may well be a prisoner of the genre, but I kept waiting for the unsolved one to be solved (and a key character of that earlier part of the novel never reappears).


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