Penzler Pick, June 2000:
After reading a strong debut, I am always eager to see the author's next offering. Will it live up to the potential of that first book, or will that book remain a flash of brilliance, never to be equaled? No worries here. Reardon's first book, Billy Dead
, was an outstanding first novel in a year of excellent first novels, and her second book more than confirms that we have a major new talent in our midst.
While not a mystery in the strictest sense of the word, there is a killing. Blameless, however, is not about who did it, or even why. It is about the effect that killing has on one member of the community: the woman who discovered the body. Mary Culpepper, a school-bus driver, is strong, fearless, independent, and seemingly in command of her life. Sure, her husband left her for her best friend, but she's over that, and when the novel opens, Mary is waiting to testify in the death of one of her charges. She will have to take the stand and tell what she witnessed. As Mary tries to keep her mind off the upcoming trial, she enters into an affair with a local guy who plays softball with her. A dream man, except that he's the father of another of her charges.
All this drama does nothing to keep away the Night Visitor, the stone monster who, each night, climbs onto Mary's chest and destroys her sleep. As we get to know Mary, we understand that she, like many of us, chooses very carefully what she does and does not witness. Layer by layer, Reardon peels away the protective covering that Mary has grown until the explosive finale when Mary will have to come to terms with her past and the way she has chosen to live her life. This novel explores moral accountability and the way we all look away from what we don't want to see, and in that way Blameless is both profoundly disturbing and utterly compelling. --Otto Penzler
From Publishers Weekly
Again basing her fiction in a small, blue-collar community, the author of the well-received Billy Dead has produced an insightful, empathetic novel about a woman coming to terms with her past. Divorced at 34, Mary Culpepper drives a school bus in a working-class town in northern Michigan and reigns as the leading hitter on the local softball team. She has also recently returned from a short stay in a psychiatric ward after a nervous breakdown she cannot explain to her family and friends, or to herself. A lifetime of repressed grief and anger lies beneath her insouciant attitude, and struggles to find expression. Reardon reveals crucial information about Mary's life in small increments, generating a fine narrative tension. Mary's best friend, Amy, married Carl, Mary's former husband, after a year-long clandestine affair, and Mary, unable to confront either of them, vowed to remain friends, even serving as Amy's bridesmaid. Mary's relationship with her mother and two younger sisters is also filled with secrets and unspoken resentment. She keeps all three at arm's length, unable to face her feelings of failure or to address the memories of her past: as a child she went bar-hopping with her philandering father; later, she was traumatized by a botched abortion. Mary finds a soulmate in one of her school-bus charges, 12-year-old Julianna. But when she meets Julianna's father, John Coleros, she gives in to the powerful force of mutual attraction. Other tensions include the death of a six-year-old girl, whose body Mary discovered on her bus route. Mary's testimony at the ensuing trial, coupled with a tragic accident that decides the outcome of her relationship with John, provides the catalyst she needs to finally address her pain and anger. Her struggle to learn emotional honesty and responsibility makes Mary a compelling heroine, and the many details of small-town life (bread-baking competitions, softball leagues, card games at the neighborhood bar) add texture to the narrative. Agent, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh. 4-city author tour. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.