An Isolated Incident is Susan R. Sloan's second novel. And it is a winner! I was hooked from page one of this murder mystery.
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Life on Seward Island in Washington state seems ideal. Everyone knows each other, and people don't bother to lock their doors. But hidden from outsiders' eyes are some very ugly secrets. There are secret meetings held in basements. And there's an automatic fear and distrust of anyone "different".
When fifteen year old Tara, daughter of a very prominent citizen, is found brutally murdered, no one wants to believe that it could have been done by "one of their own". But clues are scarce and three months later, when there still has not been an arrest, the town is starting to turn on itself. Neighbors are now suspects. And anyone just a little bit "different" is automatically scrutinized.
When the police start to investigate an alleged relationship between Tara and her high school teacher, Jerry Frankel, the townsfolk waste no time condemning him. After all, the Frankels are Jewish, and fairly new to the Island. He MUST be guilty, right?
The rest of the book follows what happens when a man is tried and convicted in the streets of his own neighborhood, and by the local media. Despite lack of any real evidence, mob mentality takes over. The town has made up its mind, and is going to make the Frankel family pay.
Good and Bad
I liked the fact that we, the readers, don't know until the very end if Jerry is actually guilty of the murder, or not. If he is guilty, then he deserves at least some of the abuse he gets. But if he's innocent then he's really made to suffer for no reason, and he's been horribly wronged. Since we never know, we don't get to settle into a comfortable position. We don't know whether to root for the Frankels, or for the townsfolk. This lack of an alliance to one side or the other made the book exciting. I found myself turning the pages very quickly, to try to figure out if Jerry's guilty or not. Because I wanted to know, for sure, who to root for!
Along the way, we're shown selections from the local newspaper's letters-to-the-editor section. In this unique writing style, we get a real glimpse of the mentality of the local citizens. We get to see all sides - those that "blame the victim", those who just want to see someone - anyone - pay for the crime. There are letters calling for the termination of the Police Chief (himself, an "outsider"), even some calling for the death penalty for Jerry (even before the trial begins). I thought reading these letters was a clever way to let us see just how the citizens in this town are thinking.
I felt uncomfortable at parts of the book, where blatant anti-Semitism was displayed. Not just towards Jerry and his family, but to all Jews, as an extension of the citizens' fears. Naturally, I'd like to believe that this is just a work of fiction, and that people wouldn't truly turn on an entire segment of their population that quickly. But, of course, I know that ignorance and prejudice do exist in the world. And although it was uncomfortable for me at times, it was an important part of the story line.
On the other hand, there was at least some character development and growth. One of the main characters does something illegal. Her reasons might have been good, but the act, itself, was still illegal. Although she gets away with it, and is "in the clear", good sense wins out and she confesses. The confession has a huge consequence in her life, as a domino effect occurs. Still, she knew that speaking up was the right thing to do, and I was happy she made that choice.
Overall, this was a very enjoyable book, one I didn't want to put down. I recommend it for lovers of murder mysteries.
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