Crime Scene: CAROLINE OVERINGTON The Lucky One. Reviewed by Robin Elizabeth
In Caroline Overington’s new thriller, the Aldens don’t just have a skeleton in their closet, they have a whole castle full.
Caroline Overington’s 11th book, The Lucky One, is a dysfunctional-family crime-farce and she has spared nothing in her depictions. It has the seemingly wealthy family sinking into debt, a conniving daughter-in-law, secret affairs, a meek housemaid, a grumpy old patriarch, a wise cop, a drunk aunt, a sexy teenager, a hot cowboy, and corpses; in other words, all the essential elements. But despite playing homage to much-loved stereotypes, Overington’s work still zings off the page as fresh.
The book tells the story of the Alden-Stowe family, owners of a grand estate, complete with a draughty castle, in Paso, California, and what happens when secret deals are made and the family patriarch dies. The story is split into five sections: a brief introduction from Fiona Alden’s perspective followed by Part One, told from the perspective of Mack, an older cop servicing the Paso area where the novel is set. Part Two is in the first person from the perspective of Eden, the youngest member of the Alden-Stowe family. She is of course a hot teenager coming of age. Part Three returns to the third person and Mack’s perspectives. The novel closes from the perspective of Earl, the sexy cowboy. There is a huge cast of characters and Overington manages to cover them all with skill and without confusing the reader. Props to her, I’m having trouble writing about them all in this review without confusing everybody. However, as Eden is the only character given the gold-star, first-person treatment it is the concern for her and how her self-centred family will impact on her, not just because of the murder or murders, that drives the book.
In the first two pages we’re introduced to Eden’s mother Jesalyn and her aunt Fiona. They’ve clearly been up to some dodgy business and are acting guilty.
Her first thought was to get in touch with the person she liked least in the world. In other words: call Jesalyn. She went to swipe the screen to bring up Skype but as she did so, the device began to vibrate with an incoming video call.
‘Thank God it’s you. Have you heard?’ Fiona said.
‘Of course I’ve heard,’ said Jesalyn, as her smooth forehead loomed forward on the screen. ‘The police called me. They’ve been trying to call you.’
‘My phone is in for repairs. The police called? Oh my God, what are we going to do?’
‘Oh, for heaven’s sake, stop panicking,’ said Jesalyn matter-of-factly. ‘Leave it to me. I’ll handle it.’
This is not the conversation of two innocent women. A body has been found and somehow they are involved. In fact, fairly early in the book Jesalyn seems to all but confess to murder:
‘Right,’ said Mack. ‘But you’ve missed a step. Because he didn’t just die, did he? You set him on fire, didn’t you, and buried him in clay?’
‘Oh, come on,’ said Jesalyn. ‘You make it sound like we did something terrible.’
But this is of course complicated by the fact that although she comes across as fairly vain and self-serving, she doesn’t seem like a killer:
She was lean and blonde with ice-blue eyes, narrow over a nose that had been tweaked to point upwards. Her breasts were full and firm and quite clearly fake, pushed together beneath a lacy top, worn with a pencil skirt and a pair of high woven wedge heels.
If having implants, rhinoplasty and enough Botox to paralyse a horse are the marks of a killer, then no Hollywood movie set would be murder-free. And another body shows up. The body of a little boy. Jesalyn is money-hungry and desperate, but how would killing a little kid help her quest for cash? Her main enemy in life seems to be appearing unattractive. She nearly has a heart attack when her own daughter does a Britney and shaves her head:
‘Honestly, Eden, I don’t understand you,’ she said clicking open the car doors. ‘Why would you do that? You’ve made yourself look ugly. Did you want to look ugly? Well, you’ve succeeded.’
There are few things more unattractive than killing a little kid. Our status switches from crime solved to it’s complicated.
In total, the book refers to four deaths on the grounds of the Alden Estate. There’s Nell, who is said to have died from complications surrounding MS; Jack, who died because he was clumsy; Owen, who died from being old and falling; and Fraser, a little boy who is not of the Alden family, yet his corpse has turned up on their property. All the deaths seem random and unconnected, but there is a police investigation and plenty of people are behaving in a less than savoury manner, so you’re constantly asking yourself, Was there a murder? Were there multiple murders, and if so, who was the killer or killers? It’s complicated, just like the Alden-Stowe family.
I’d well and truly locked in my choice for the killer 100-odd pages in. I was wrong. The book does give a clear and satisfactory resolution to the deaths. It is highly plausible yet still surprising. However, in the end there are still questions and mysteries to be solved and you might just lie in bed at night wondering exactly what that last line means. As is said in the novel, ‘You can bury your bones but not secrets.’
The Lucky One is a delightful romp through murder and the machinations of a greedy family. It will be enjoyed by lovers of farce and crime, particularly if you like the two combined. Fans of Dead Famous and Fargo will be captivated.
Caroline Overington The Lucky One HarperCollins 2017 PB 336pp $32.99
Robin Elizabeth is the author of Confessions of a Mad Mooer: Postnatal Depression Sucks and blogs at Write or Wrong about her love of Australian literature, depression, and whatever tickles her fancy bone.
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