February 2009

The dark secrets of suburban life

By Stephen Amidon
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It’s 3 a.m. in Stoneleigh, Massachusetts. Can you imagine all the trouble brewing there? Stephen Amidon can, and he offers a generous helping of it in his fast-paced, stylish suburban mystery/thriller, Security.

Edward Inman is the owner of Stoneleigh Security, a low-pressure business in this sleepy college town “with a crime rate equal to a sedate Swiss canton.” Still, Edward’s night terrors have gotten so severe he’s taken to leaving his home in the middle of the night to prowl the empty homes of absent clients. Edward, whose wife is an ambitious town selectman planning a mayoral campaign, is simultaneously excited and dismayed at the prospect of rekindling a relationship with his former lover, Kathryn Williams, a single mother beset by the problems of her college dropout son, Conor.

Tension builds slowly in the first half of the novel, as Amidon establishes the complex web of relationships among his characters. In addition to the Inman and Williams families, there’s Angela, a student at Mt. Stoneleigh College, and Stuart Symes, the creative writing teacher and failed novelist with whom she’s been having an affair; another student, Mary Steckl, and her alcoholic father Walter, notorious for his frequent brushes with Stoneleigh’s authorities; and Doyle Cutler, a vaguely sinister businessman who’s made his fortune in the “debt management industry.”

The pace of Security accelerates dramatically in its second half, when police respond to a 911 call and find Mary severely beaten in the kitchen of her home, her father standing nearby and unable to remember anything of the evening’s events. But when her account of the incident changes, the cloud of suspicion slowly shifts from Walter to men like Conor Williams, Stuart Symes and Doyle Cutler, each one possessing a secret he’s desperate to hide. As the crisis in his personal life escalates, Edward Inman struggles to discover what happened that night.

Amidon’s plotting is crisp and assured and his depiction of disturbing secrets embedded just below the surface of placid suburban life has the feeling of truth. It’s a territory he knows well and in Security he’s successfully made it his own.

Harvey Freedenberg writes from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

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By Stephen Amidon
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
ISBN 9780374257118

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