Dark Water by Sharon Sala
(Mira, $6.50, PG) ISBN 1-55166-939-0
****
For over twenty years the dark water of a lake near Marmet, Maine, concealed the remains of Franklin Whitman, vice-president of the Marmet Bank. He disappeared at the same time that over a million dollars in cash had been discovered missing. His wife and only child, Sarah, bore the brunt of the town’s wrath. Less than three months after his absence, his wife committed suicide and Sarah was claimed by a Cajun godmother Lorett Boudreaux, who reared Sarah in Louisiana.

Time has matured Sarah, but it has not healed the scars from the shame she endured as the focal point of an entire community out for the survivor’s blood. Another bank robbery sets the wheels in motion that returns Sarah to the vengeful town. Fleeing from the site of the crime and for his life, the armed robber ends up in the same lake; divers searching for his remains find the padlocked trunk that concealed the skeletal remains of Franklin Whitman.

Sarah returns to bury her father, vowing publicly that she will not leave until his good name is restored and his murderer brought to justice. An empty threat all things considered, since realistically all the killer has to do, if still around, or alive, is to wait her out.

This small town had a right and wrong side of the tracks; emerging from the wrong side was Anthony James DeMarco. Franklin Whitman had been the first person in the town to trust him. When he learns Sarah is returning to Marmet, Tony sets aside his business affairs in Chicago to lend her whatever support she needs, in part to repay the kindnesses her father had extended him.

Tony has a summer home in Marmet and upon finding Sarah at the lake hounded by reporters, whisks her away to stay with him. She remembers him as the teenager who mowed their lawn, and the one she had had a monster crush on.

With Tony joining ranks with her, the pressure of his prestige and money make the town and the killer uncomfortable; finally a chain of events start that will eventually lead to the unmasking of the person responsible.

Sala has created memorable characters in Dark Water. As secondary characters, Aunt Lorett, the Cajun goddess, the society matrons of the little town of Marmet and its stalwart law enforcement people, all bring spice to this murky story. The author balances the guilt and fear of the killer with the anger of Sarah and the protectiveness of Tony to fashion a very simple story.

It is the dynamics of the community and the intruders Tony, Sarah and Laurett that carry the plot, not the shrewd detective work that generally resolves a crime. Sala utilizes her consummate skill as a storyteller to clothe the story with emotional edges that pop out in unexpected places. And enjoyable as always is the little touch of the fey Sala interjects now and then.

But most of all Dark Water is an enjoyable story about people in a small town - their passions, their romances, their anger, their guilt and their vulnerabilities as they work through their relationships.

--Thea Davis


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