<B>Sifting through the rubble of a sister's ruined life</B> Though many novels that involve current events acquire a dull, refried sheen, the engaging <B>Going East</B> avoids that particular pitfall. British journalist Matthew d'Ancona's tale of a young woman who survives the loss of her family and then excavates the story behind that loss is consistently entertaining and written with a balance of psychological closeness and accumulative suspense, managing to examine sociological dynamics in contemporary London as it goes.
As the story begins, Ben Taylor, a financier, is having a 30th birthday picnic with his parents and younger twin sisters. Mia, his other sister, a successful consultant, arrives late and then dashes back to work, promising to return later. The family repairs to Ben's flat for more celebration. When Mia arrives for the party, she finds her brother's house and the house beside it demolished from an explosion, her entire family dead. A year later, Mia is working at a healing center in a shoddy neighborhood in East London, living a completely different life and yet crucial questions nag at her. Was the IRA responsible? Or someone with a more personal grievance? Mia is a worthy guide through d'Ancona's multilayered social diorama. As she begins to investigate her brother's past, she encounters thugs in expensive suits and knights in ratty clothes, including dashing, scrappy Rob, a musician who comes to work at the healing center and later sleeps with Mia; Aasim, a young gang leader who vandalizes local shops with impunity; and Miles, her old boss, who knows more about her brother's past than he chooses to reveal. These characters, as in older suspense classics, suggest entire backstories in the sparest of appearances.
The novel moves explosively from its outset, only slowing when d'Ancona offers us too generous a slice of his characters' psyches or betrays his journalistic past by pulling back too far from the action, becoming almost essayistic in his approach. This, however, is infrequent myriad mini-stories keep us watching, from the sex party in one of the back rooms at an expensive benefit, to Mia's confrontation with a bartender in a rough establishment. All of these scenarios are drawn together into the story of a courageous woman's life in this believable, spirited debut. <I>Max Winter writes from New York City.</I>