Tuesday 23 May 2017

Review: Love is the Reason by Mary Malone

Poolbeg, €9.99

Angela M Cornyn

The seven deadly sins. Those of us of a certain age remember the list well from our catechism: pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, gluttony and lust. Essentially, they are those tendencies in the character of humanity which threaten moral goodness by predisposing us to sin.

Love is the Reason, the fourth novel from Cork author Mary Malone, reads like a contemporary exemplar of the seven deadly sins in action. The well-drawn characters encapsulate the bulk of the seven sins in their dealings, and top up the smorgasbord with luscious, lashings of love and hate for that fizzing, intoxicating read.

The story centres round a suspicious house fire at the beautiful Tudor home of Lucy and Danny Ardle in Crosshaven. Lucy, suffering from a severe bout of empty-nest syndrome due to her two sons Stephen and Matt having emigrated to Australia and USA respectively, leaving her at a loose end, had spent the afternoon in a whining session with her jewellery-designer sister Delia.

She was driving home when she was overtaken by a fire engine and to her horror finds her home, Sycamore Lodge, engulfed in flames. "How could their house have caught fire? Danny was a builder, a perfectionist. He'd installed very available safety precaution to protect their home." Worse still, Danny was inside. Later, Danny lies critically ill in hospital, her lovely home is in ruins and a lifetime of memories destroyed -- but the nightmare is only beginning.

A forensic examination results in the Gardai upgrading the case from accidental to arson. The fire leaves in its wake a raft of questions: Was Danny Ardle's business in trouble and the fire intentional in order to pull an insurance scam? Was it part of the plan that he would be in the house when the fire started so that his injuries would add credibility to the ensuing insurance claim?

Eric and Carol Black are the nearest neighbours to the Ardles. They have two daughters, Isobel, a home-loving, workaholic with a high-level IT position in Revenue and "a stickler for perfection", and Heidi, a 33-year-old, unemployed teacher with a truck-load of baggage who was "well, different".

The Blacks live in a lavish three-storey house and enjoy the spoils of wealth, namely for Carol indulging herself with endless shopping trips and beauty treatments, and for Eric, driving top of the range Mercedes cars, membership of golf and yacht clubs, not to mention several gyms, and mingling with the elite of the business world.

However, a dodgy property deal in Florida by an ever-grasping Eric leaves the family wrestling with bankruptcy and legal consequences to boot.

It was Carol who had seen the flames at the Ardle home and called the fire brigade. The lives of both families will become irrevocably intertwined as a result of the fire.

Meanwhile, in New York, Matt, the youngest of the Ardle sons, has just arrived to begin his version of "the American dream" as a gym teacher and basketball coach at NYC College, and is living in a studio apartment near Central Park.

He is not alone, having become romantically entangled with a fragile girl 12 years his senior. Within a few days of their arrival and at the beginning of a sight-seeing expedition, the girlfriend disappears. Matt is distraught, believing that she has been abducted.

He is resolute that he will find her. In the search, he uncovers a girlfriend with a checkered past that bears little resemblance to his lover. Admittedly, that same girlfriend had absconded to New York to be with him without her family knowing her whereabouts.

Lucy is the heroine of the novel, yet she is a weak woman who cannot bring herself to divulge bad news and thereby creates even more havoc. In addition, she carries a secret of her own, once she faces the shocking reality that the task she omitted to do may have even more devastating consequences for her family.

Her vulnerability leaves her open to manipulation in the midst of her family's disintegrating fortunes -- unlike her mother Gloria, a feisty, old lady, who extricates herself from the retirement home in Kinsale immediately she becomes aware of the family's troubles.

Stephen, the eldest of the Ardle sons, the strong, dependable one, proceeds to add fuel to the fire, pardon the pun, by dropping a couple of bombshells of his own with careless abandon. In the end, he comes to the rescue of the family and arrives promptly from Australia with a companion.

The story moves with ease between Crosshaven, Florida and New York. The author skilfully tackles the difficult subjects of a suspicious house fire, fraudulent property deals and a mix of troubled relationships. The novel amounts to an amalgam of skullduggery of the highest order, featuring corruption, deceit, manipulation, obsession and revenge in the lead roles.

The masterful descriptions and dialogue enable one to see, taste, feel, smell and hear the flawed, sinful nature of the characters.

Mary Malone has taken the popular women's fiction genre and added a highly inflammable substance to the basic recipe, namely good old-fashioned crime, and created a red-hot novel that ensures her own unique place in a highly competitive market. A gripping, galloping, great read by an accomplished author.

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