Amagansett a literary thriller to be savored
— — Amagansettby Mark MillsBerkley Books, New York, NY; 392 pages trade paperback
— — —
s debut novel, &
is a fine summer read. Well-written, surprisingly engaging, it is set on Long Island and captures how one small community, Amagansett, struggles with the changes that swept America in the aftermath of World War II. Soldiers returned, many inalterably changed, finding that the places they left behind, once familiar, are no longer. The only constant is change.
As well, the book examines the tensions that have existed in Amagansett for generations, between those who inhabit the isolated finger of land year-round, fishing the Atlantic for a living, and those who descend on the ocean-side community every summer.
s protagonist, Conrad Labarde, a first-generation Basque fisherman, has recently returned from war, wanting only to live an isolated life in a small fishing shack, well-removed from the ebb and flow of the community. He is an interesting character: bright, wounded from his experiences in the war, stoic about his circumstances, wishing only to come and go as he pleases.
But all of that changes one morning when he discovers in his fishing net a beautiful young woman, Lillian Wallace, drowned. Abruptly the novel becomes a mystery -- whether it&
s a murder mystery is not made clear until late in the book -- and Labarde is determined to discover what events were set in motion that could have caused such an unexpected death. Wallace was a strong swimmer, a year-&
round resident, and knew the vagaries of the Atlantic. She was also a member of a powerful family that has summered on Long Island for decades, owns property, and assumes their influence extends from the board rooms of New York City to the remotest corners of the island.
is a mystery novel, and the question of what happened to the young woman central to the plot. However, the novel reaches far beyond the genre and is character-driven rather in the main. It&
s also compelling for all of its well-researched detail regarding what sort of men and women live hard against the Atlantic and ply its waters. In clear prose, using backstory to great effect, Miller develops Labarde&
s character as well as that of Tom Hollis, Deputy Police Chief, a young expatriate from the police force in NYC, and Mary Calder, a longtime resident who only recently has chosen not to return to New York at the end of the season. All of them satellite around Labarde and the ever pressing question of what happened to Lillian Wallace while challenging the implicit idea that by right of birth and wealth and influence the rich are outside the law.
turns out to be a literary thriller, of a sort, one to be savored for its plot and for its willingness to give depth to the characters and to the 1947 community of Amagansett. The novel has superb atmospherics, is rich with local detail, taut from the outset, and yet spare in style and construction. If there is anything missing from this good read it is the wish that Miller had given even more information about Labarde, the novel&
s most improbable detective.