Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Books

Review: A pretty little liar's deadly spell in 'The Girl With a Clock for a Heart'

Who are literature's most lethal women? There are many candidates, of course — male writers keep churning them out — but we might start with Shakespeare's Goneril and Regan, those heartless sisters in King Lear. In the world of crime fiction, we might shudder at the thought of Phyllis Nirdlinger, the determined husband-killer in James M. Cain's Double Indemnity, or more recently, Desiree Stone, the rich, gorgeous and homicidal femme fatale in Dennis Lehane's Sacred.

And here's a new contender: Liana Decter, who causes endless heartbreak and occasional death in Peter Swanson's compulsively readable first novel, The Girl With a Clock for a Heart. Liana's primary victim is George Foss, a well-meaning fellow who falls in love with her at age 18 and still can't resist her 20 years later, even after she has not only broken his heart but framed him for multiple crimes.

George meets the gorgeous Liana when they're freshmen at a small college in Connecticut. Swanson paints a sweet picture of the uncertainties of one's freshman year and of the way the magic of romance can transform it into paradise. When the young couple make love, it's George's first time, and Liana says it's hers, too, although that, like the name she's using, is just one of her lies.

Near the end of their first semester, after Liana's roommate goes home, they spend a week mostly in bed. "The intensity of that week bordered on an almost unbearable sadness for George. He'd read enough books to know that youthful love comes only once, and he never wanted it to end or go away."

Alas, it's never that good again. Each goes home for the Christmas holidays, Liana to a grubby little Florida town called Sweetgum. Then George receives the devastating news that Liana is dead. He takes a bus to Florida and learns that someone is dead but she's not the girl he loves. He also learns Liana had grown up amid squalor and violence in a world far different from his own comfortable home back east. Soon, Liana is suspected of two murders and skips town. George returns to school, still in love.

Twenty years later, he's the business manager of a literary magazine in Boston. He never married and is still haunted by Liana. Abruptly, she appears and pleads for help. She's stolen half a million dollars in cash and is being pursued by killers. She says she wants to return the money but is afraid to take it herself. Will George make the delivery for her?

Swanson tells his story in chapters that alternate between past and present. Each story has its own suspense, and each carries us deeper into George's obsession with Liana and her bottomless deceit.

Near the end, George reflects on what he's learned: "It was a gift, a specialty, a talent. She could become someone else, and she could then just as easily kill what she became, taking out whoever happened to be in the way. And if transformation was her special talent, then George knew what had attracted Liana to him was that he was someone who would never transform. He would always be the same."

For all the book's delights, I had a problem with its ending, when someone escapes from a situation that seems to offer no possibility of escape. But by then I was willing to give Swanson the benefit of the doubt. This is a highly original story, well told, that should be a contender for crime fiction's best first novel of 2014.

Comments
Uber Eats is delivering 'free' chicken McNuggets across Tampa Bay

Uber Eats is delivering 'free' chicken McNuggets across Tampa Bay

You'll still have to pay the delivery fee, but the 10-piece McNuggets are free.
Updated: 4 hours ago
What to watch this week: New season of ‘The Librarians,’ Gwen Stefani’s Christmas special

What to watch this week: New season of ‘The Librarians,’ Gwen Stefani’s Christmas special

MondaySEASON FINALE: The Gifted, 9 p.m., Fox: The team at Mutant HQ is divided on what to do next after Jace is forced to hand over something valuable to Dr. Campbell.Disney's Fairytale Weddings: Holiday Magic, 8 p.m., Freeform: A behind-the-scenes l...
Published: 12/11/17
This week’s pop culture winners and losers: Tonya Harding edition

This week’s pop culture winners and losers: Tonya Harding edition

WINNERS: Tonya Harding The once disgraced Olympic figure skater is no longer on thin ice in the pop culture world. Harding joined Margot Robbie, who is playing her in the upcoming film I, Tonya, on the red carpet this week. While Harding pleaded g...
Published: 12/08/17

Book events: Victorian Christmas Event, Cheryl Hollon launch party

Book TalkCheryl Hollon (Etched in Tears) will appear at a launch party for the new book in her Webb’s Glass Shop Mystery series at 2 p.m. Dec. 10 at Books at Park Place, 10468 Roosevelt Blvd. N, St. Petersburg.William Valentine (Cuban Charade) will s...
Published: 12/07/17
Mahaffey Theater cancels Garrison Keillor performance after sexual misconduct allegations

Mahaffey Theater cancels Garrison Keillor performance after sexual misconduct allegations

The Mahaffey Theater has canceled an upcoming performance by Garrison Keillor in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct against the former host of A Prairie Home Companion.Keillor was to perform in St. Petersburg on Feb. 5, but the show's promo...
Published: 12/06/17
Review: History’s ‘Knightfall’ will please fans of epic history, popular culture

Review: History’s ‘Knightfall’ will please fans of epic history, popular culture

Sometimes a Templar Knight dies in your field and you have to return his master sword to the temple in Paris, because God's kingdom depends on it.All that happens to Parsifal (Bobby Shofield) in the first episode of History's new period drama Knightf...
Published: 12/06/17
For gift books this holiday season, think classic

For gift books this holiday season, think classic

The gift book is a holiday tradition, but what’s significant enough to merit a space on your recipient’s coffee table? Classics. Look for a book that captures people, places or things we see as enduring, indispensable, iconic: unforgettable photograp...
Published: 12/06/17
36 period dramas you can stream right now on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu

36 period dramas you can stream right now on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu

If you've loved period dramas for any length of time, you probably feel like you've seen them all. Not that there's a shortage of shows dramatizing any and everything from the 1600s to the '60s. But sometimes you've seen all Masterpiece and BBC curr...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17
What pop culture from 2017 made you most hopeful for 2018 and beyond?

What pop culture from 2017 made you most hopeful for 2018 and beyond?

Can we all just agree that 2017 has been a toilet fire of epic proportions?Seriously, between all the strife and discord and tragedy and loss, it feels like 2017 was engineered in a lab to feel like a kick in the shins from the moment you woke up in ...
Published: 12/05/17
5 holiday treats to try at Busch Gardens Christmas Town

5 holiday treats to try at Busch Gardens Christmas Town

The Tampa theme park boasts the title of roller coaster king in Florida, but it can also say it has one of the prettiest displays of Christmas lights in Tampa Bay.Busch Gardens runs its annual Christmas Town festivities select nights through Dec. 31,...
Published: 12/05/17