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Derailed    by James Siegel order for
by James Siegel
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2003 (2003)
Hardcover, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I knew I would enjoy this story from the first paragraph, when the narrator described his two teaching jobs as 'conjugating verbs for delinquents and dangling participles for convicts'. Then, in the first of many surprises, he embarked on a story within a story about a man 'who walked on a train one day to go to work' and so derailed his life. The teacher, Mr. Widdoes, receives this tale in installments as prison writing class assignments and we wonder with him, who has written it.

We also wonder if this inner story is a case of Fatal Attraction when married ad executive Charles Schine falls for an 'undeniably magnificent' woman, Lucinda Harris, on the commuter train into New York. But she turns out to be a broker, who's brutally victimized along with Charles in a scene straight out of a horror movie. When blackmail is added to this violation, the nightmare truly begins. A subsequent murder leaves them utterly hopeless, and with Charles under suspicion by the law.

Charles' marriage has been ailing along with the couple's very sick teenage daughter, his career is spiraling downwards, and every action that he takes pulls him deeper and deeper into a treacherous morass. Finally, in a family Christmas scene, we see a tarnished star on top of the tree reflecting his tarnished life. Along the way, I felt like shaking this man, telling him to get back on track, confess to his wife, involve the police ... do something.

He finally does, risking his job, his marriage, jail, and even his life. It doesn't turn out at all as one would expect, and in fact what saves him and once again changes the course of his life is a totally serendipitous event. In Derailed, James Siegel takes you on a wild, twisty, roller coaster ride; he derails you not once but several times; but leaves you at the end with an immensely satisfying finish that speaks of true love and second chances.

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