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Misfortune    by Nancy Geary order for
by Nancy Geary
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Misfortune is a first novel by Nancy Geary, who is herself an attorney, with experience as a prosecutor. The story is set in Southampton, Long Island and its Fair Lawn Country Club, whose privileged members are obsessed with appearance and acceptance. While the protagonist, Frances Pratt, comes from this background, she has moved on to become an assistant DA for Suffolk County, lives in the less affluent North Fork, and has few connections to other people aside from her dogs and her caring neighbor Sam.

Frances' parents divorced when she was a small child. She and her sister Blair were raised by a cold, unkind stepmother and by their artistic (and self-absorbed) mother Aurelia. Their father suffered a stroke the year before the story starts, and has been in poor health since. The stepmother Clio Pratt is good at making enemies, from the eminent African-American surgeon, whom she blackballs, to the old friend whom she targets with vicious rumors, and even her stepdaughter Blair who is refused a desperately needed loan. So it's not very surprising to the reader when Clio is murdered.

Concerned for her father, Frances takes on the investigation, against the specific orders of her boss. What follows is a classic whodunit, in which Frances uncovers all kinds of surprises about people that she thought she knew, and begins to develop some understanding of the background to Clio's behavior. Though adequate as a mystery, I found this tale most interesting for its message about the damage that people do by not paying enough attention to the needs of those closest to them. Its commentary on the justice system, including cases like the infamous O.J., is also interesting.

I'm not sure that readers will feel they know Frances Pratt much better by the end of the story than in the first few pages, but she deals with an unusual dilemma, and one is intrigued to see what direction her life will take next. Fortunately for its readers, Misfortune seems set up for a sequel, which should provide answers.
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bc]Note: The following review is by Mary Ann Smyth
^bic]Misfortune is a crackerjack of a first novel by Nancy Geary. She writes with an insider's knowledge of the pecking order and social life in Southampton, Long Island. Indeed I wonder how she can continue to summer on Southampton after what amounts to telling tales out of school.

Frances Pratt, a county prosecutor, returns home to Southampton to be with her dying father. But it is her stepmother Clio who dies first and under mysterious circumstances in the marbled powder room of the 'old money' Fair Lawn Country Club. Frances finds that there are more than a few people who would not be unhappy to see Clio dead. She decides to investigate Clio's death herself and uncovers a trail of suspects who have felt her stepmother's wrath at one time or another. This leads to what could almost be considered an exposé of how the monied class lives and plays.

If you have wondered about the daily life of the rich and pampered, this is the book for you. A bonus, though, is that it is a well-written mystery that will keep you turning pages until the surprise ending. If you like to play armchair detective, pit yourself against Frances and see if you can pick out the murderer from a plethora of suspects before she does.

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