Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"If You Were Here"

Alafair Burke's novels include “two power house series” (Sun-Sentinel) that have earned her a reputation for creating strong, believable, and eminently likable female characters, such as NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher and Portland Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid.

Burke's new novel is the stand-alone, If You Were Here.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the novel and reported the following:
At first glance, page 69 seems unrepresentative of If You Were Here. After all, the novel's central story is about former prosecutor turned journalist McKenna Jordan's search for Susan Hauptmann, a friend who disappeared without a trace ten years earlier. Page 69, which sees NYPD Detective Joe Scanlin frustrated by the questioning of a suspect's wife, mentions neither McKenna nor Susan.

But Scanlin, though a secondary character, is one of my favorite characters in the novel and provides some of the most important glue between present and past. He is the seasoned detective who handled the investigation into Susan Hauptmann's disappearance. He also happens to hate McKenna Jordan. To Scanlin, McKenna will always be the ladder-climbing careerist who once accused a fellow officer of lying about a shooting in the case that ultimately ended McKenna's career. But McKenna's current search for her lost friend forces him to realize that he wasn't at the top of his game a decade earlier.

One of the recurring questions of If You Were Here is whether you can ever make up for the past and become a different person. Scanlin and McKenna are both struggling with that question in different ways.

From page 69:
Two hours later, Joe Scanlin was back at the Twelfth Precinct. The estranged wife of a suspect in yet another drug-related killing had agreed to come in for questioning.

He knew the history. Six 911 calls made from their shared address just in the last four years. Three arrests of the husband for domestic violence. One time she went to the hospital with a broken jaw. No charges ever filed.

She moved out two months earlier when Child Protective Services threatened to take her kids if they continued to witness the violence against her.

But “separated” and “separate” weren’t synonymous.

“Kenny don’t sell,” the woman insisted. “He don't even use. No way he’d have something to do with that. His no-good friends always dragging him down. That’s all that is. They the ones did this. Don’t you listen to their noise.”

Scanlin walked out of the interrogation room while she was talking. He didn’t need to hear the rest. Been there too many times. She wasn’t under arrest, but he knew she’d stay there in the box until he told her she was allowed to leave. No one ever tried to leave, certainly not a woman who’d gotten used to being beat on.
Learn more about the book and author at Alafair Burke's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue