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"The Lola Quartet" by Emily St. John Mandel

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Emily St. John Mandel’s latest, The Lola Quartet, delivers a tense, atmospheric noir story of theft, drug abuse, and murder to the suburbs of South Florida. It has superb pacing, with interlaced flashbacks which slowly but surely take us where we need to go as readers. It’s an outstanding job.

Gavin Sasaki’s pregnant girlfriend Anna runs off with mutual friend Daniel, leaving South Florida, just as they graduate high school. The safe haven Daniel has offered her in Utah turns out to be anything but. Ten years later, the chance that Gavin might have a daughter plunges him into a downward spiral. He ruins his own promising journalism career by fabricating some stories, but at novel’s end, winds up being one of only two virtuous characters among the main players. He has some fatuous ideas about being a private detective if he can’t be a journalist, but he winds up being not quite either.

Ms. Mandel has generated an array of artful effects. Main character Gavin is born and bred in Miami’s suburbs, but is prone to heat stroke. His struggles with the climate mirror his struggles with the venality and cruelty of his friends and associates. The author displays the homes and lawns of suburban South Florida in hypnotizing terms of color and shape, and adds description of the skies and lagoons to good effect. The heat, and the fear, tension, and pain put the reader under an odd spell both soporific and tense.

The Lola Quartet works very, very well as a noir detective novel without an actual detective. The policeman in the story, Daniel, conspires in criminal activity, and doesn’t try to solve anything – he knows the particulars all too well. The facts and implications of the case escape Gavin, the would-be detective, until after it’s too late. All in all, this is balanced, mysterious, haunting, and satisfying. If slowly-unfolding mysteries and flawed heroes are your thing, take this up.

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