Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
by Aaron Paul Lazar
Amazon Digital Services
Print Length: 314 pages, ASIN: B00G1TDBRI
I think it’s probably fair to say that Aaron Paul Lazar is one of the most readable of authors. His books are engaging, warm, and moving in a way that, if it’s a tad old-fashioned, still retains a modern sensibility and drama that comes from the real issues the work tends to address. I’ve been reading his mysteries for a long time now, and as someone who doesn’t tend to like genre novels, have always been drawn in by the way the plot is shaped by a deep sense of character development. His work is also rich with sensual details and a strong sense of place. His latest novel is a romance, and like his mysteries, is not hampered by a formulaic approach to genre. Instead, Seacrest follows the personal development of Finn McGraw as he is thrust into painful awakening. When Finn’s wife and brother die in a tragic car accident, Finn is left wondering what happened. It also brings up a range of negative feelings he’s been carrying for years about the death of his parents and younger sister, and the role his brother played in that.
The story alternates between two timeframes – Finn’s coming of age at sixteen in 1997 and Finn’s present tense at thirty two in 2013. In the present tense, Finn is a broken man. He’s dirt poor, and living as the stablehand at the Vanderhorns, a wealthy family. Many years earlier Finn had a serious relationship – his fist – with Libby Vanderhorn, aka Sassy, who spurned him and went away to school in Switzerland. Though Finn never understood why his affair with Libby ended suddenly, he’s managed to make enough peace with the Vanderhorns to work for them, though Libby is always cold to him, until his wife Cora and his brother Jax have their fatal accident. Libby, whose husband is missing in Iraq, begins to soften towards Finn as their shared tragedy brings them back together.
Though the plot structure is relatively simple, Lazar’s skills as a mystery writer shows, because he develops a tightly knitted mystery seamlessly woven into the story. Finn’s increasing desire to work out what happened to his family all those years ago, and what happened to his wife and brother and why they were together drives the story forward quickly, creating tension and a basis for Finn’s growth, which provides a strong thematic undertone to the story. The Seacrest is set in Cape Cod, and Lazar describes the environment in full sensual detail, from aromatic clam and corn chowder flavoured, of course, with fresh herbs from Finn’s garden, to the salt-scented air, the local architecture, and the flora and fauna of New England:
On one side, the quiet bay beaches glistened, hidden behind clusters of historic old homes with white picket fences covered with the heavy blooms of blue hydrangeas. I never tired of the view, and drove with open windows, enjoying the sea breeze.
The Seacrest is an emotionally satisfying story about the enduring and healing nature of love – a classic romance theme which Lazar handles beautifully, but it’s also a story about the damaging nature of secrets, about suppression and loss, and about how we can submerge our happiness into the fictions we create around ourselves.
About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com