Nancy Geary's second outing is another family-centered mystery/drama, this time at Manchester-by-the Sea, a bastion of New England affluence. These are the beautiful people: rich, successful, thin and, before long, one of them very, very dead. Self-protection is second nature to this rarified society and they close ranks against any threat to their careful projection of the American Dream.
Frances Pratt has an extensive background in criminal justice as a former prosecutor and current advocate for abused women. But Frances is ready for a break from a recent loss, and a visit to the home of a beloved aunt seems like the ideal escape. Cousin Hope is marrying her longtime sweetheart, Jack Cabot. Like Ken and Barbie brought to life, the couple is beautiful, and each detail of their wedding and reception has been planned to perfection. When Hope confides her anxiety to Frances before the ceremony, agonizing over her worthiness to be Jack Cabot's bride, Frances is shocked that this accomplished young woman suffers such doubts. Jack's parents are somewhat concerned, as well, as he is sole heir to the family fortune and they are pressuring Jack to proffer a prenuptial agreement.
Such concerns seem irrelevant when it is announced to the wedding party, gathered for the ceremony, that a relative has unexpectedly died. Stunned and grieving, Frances struggles to make the transition from celebrant to mourner, especially when the police inject the possibility of murder. Asked by her aunt to assist the local authorities, Frances complies, although she is burdened by her own grief. In the course of the investigation, Frances discovers unsettling truths long buried beneath the placid surface of the family's apparently ideal lives -- ugly secrets that have poisoned the relationships, never acknowledged or addressed.
There is plenty of drama in this bubbling stew of passion, betrayal and misguided affection. An assortment of family dysfunction is the rule rather than the exception, pushing believability to the edge. But Geary writes in a fresh and engaging style of the privileged class, unafraid to expose the fatal flaws that allow a family's disintegration in pursuit of a lifestyle intolerant of disharmony. Amid eclectic antiques and faded chintz, the ocean shimmering on the horizon and a Cinderella wedding, people are tormented by their personal demons, anesthetizing feelings in order to project the image of success.