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Good Morning, Darkness, Ruth Francisco, Mysterious Press, $23.95.

Good Morning, Darkness by Ruth Francisco

I was a big fan of Francisco's first book's premise. Her first novel, Confessions of a Deathmaiden, is about a woman who is kind of the opposite of a midwife: she helps people into a graceful death. The idea of this is so interesting that it carried the rest of a book that, while vivid, had some plot holes. It reminded me very much of Martha C. Lawrence's strong series (which begins with Murder in Scorpio). In this second novel, the premise is gone (this is another stand alone), but the plot is top notch and the writing is just as memorable and vivid. Good Morning, Darkness reminded me more of a Laurie King novel - rich in texture and character, and in this case, rich in plot. It's all about a woman named Laura who is only present in the very beginning of the book, and who, for the rest of the book, is seen through the distorted prisms of various men who are, one could say, obsessed with her.

One man is a poor Mexican fisherman, who feels watching Laura comb her hair in the morning is akin to watching a beautiful sunrise; one is her martial arts instructor, who is drawn to her despite a happy marriage; and one, most disturbingly, is her boyfriend who becomes more or less her stalker. I was initially disturbed by this premise because the way Francisco writes about this woman makes it seem like it's partly Laura's fault that these men are obsessed with her - she's led them on somehow, but they're so clueless that they're helpless pawns caught in the web of her beauty and soft spoken, gentle manner. Did Laura mean to lead them on? When a woman's arms are found washed up on the beach by the fisherman, this question begins to have more resonance. All three men are affected by her disappearance in different ways, and Francisco very skillfully leapfrogs around in time to tell the story of Laura as she wants to tell it - no detail comes out before she's ready for you to hear it.

The motives of all the men involved are personal, and all reflect their very different characters and personalities - Francisco is more than able to tell the story from the point of view of Laura's selfish and creepy ex so that you, as a reader, can understand his motives - you just won't like them. In one way, this book resembled more than anything a well done true crime book in its explication of the victim's life and the people around her who made it turn out the way it did. The end involves a twist which Francisco has laid clues for, reminding us that this is fiction, and it's fiction at its very best: agile, surprising, well written. This is one of the reads of the year.


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