Mon January 30, 2006
The Point of Fracture
Frank Turner Hollon is a practicing attorney in Robertsdale, Alabama, and one of the fastest, seemingly effortless writers to come along in Alabama for a long time. All of Hollon's novels involve crime, the law, lawyers, courtroom procedures, rules of evidence, and the rest of what you would expect to find in an attorney's fiction, but The Point of Fracture is the best yet.
By Don Noble
Frank Turner Hollon is a practicing attorney in Robertsdale, Alabama, and one of the fastest, seemingly effortless writers to come along in Alabama for a long time. He has published five novels in six years, and, while all are in a voice I have come to recognize and admire, the novels are distinctively different from one another.
The Pains of April (1999) gives us the ruminations of an old man in a Gulf Coast rest home. The God File (2002) has as a protagonist a philosophical convict who is trying to ascertain whether God exists, because if he does, he must exist in the foulest place, the state pen, as well as in pleasanter places.
A Thin Difference (2003) is the story of a south Alabama lawyer who gets conned while conducting a murder defense, and Life Is a Strange Place (2003) is an odd book in which a man who has had his testicles crushed by a trumpet and then removed is accused in a paternity suit.
All of Hollon's novels involve crime, the law, lawyers, courtroom procedures, rules of evidence, and the rest of what you would expect to find in an attorney's fiction, but The Point of Fracture is the best yet.
This unconventional novel is in two parts. In part one, we watch as a woman we don't know, the beautiful, sexy, and troubled Suzanne Brace, moves around Fairhope, Alabama from midsummer until the early morning of February 4th. Her behavior, while obviously purposeful, is peculiar. We see that she does not sleep with her husband Michael, a pleasant but aimless fellow from a good family who drinks too much, sleeps on the couch, and neither holds a job nor writes his novel.
We see her burn herself on purpose and then go to her all-too-gullible female psychotherapist and tell her that Michael burned her. We see her go to the doctor's for a physical and reveal nasty bruises on her ribs, but we know Michael does not in fact abuse her. We see her plant pieces of what will become evidence that she is having an affair with Phillip Brace, Michael's brother, but we know she isn't. She is clearly, cunningly, carefully, slowly setting up some kind of trap, probably for Michael, but it takes a while to figure out what she is up to.
At the end of part one, Michael is arrested for murder. And there is a mountain of evidence to prove that he did it. As they used to say in the westerns, "it's quiet tonight, too quiet," and this case is perfect, too perfect. Michael and his brother Phillip figure it out pretty quickly, but knowing that Michael was set up doesn't help. How will he escape this nightmare?
The build-up of suspense in the first half is exquisite. We move along with Suzanne, trying to figure out what she is up to. And, bit by bit, we do. In the second half, we watch as the Brace brothers and their lawyer struggle to understand the labyrinth of a trap Suzanne has constructed and, in doing so, to find a way out. There is an ending, of course, a climax, but I must confess I found it too arbitrary, too much of a deus ex machine. The answer that Hollon provides seems unexpected, not prepared for.
It's a good book anyway. The first half is as good as an old movie thriller like The Dirty Dozen or Ocean's Eleven, the real one, as the enterprise is planned. The construction of the trap is beautifully done, as though Suzanne had read a thousand murder mysteries. In fact, I think Hollon constructed such a perfect trap that he could not find a logical way to get Michael out of it.
Don Noble's book reviews can be heard each Monday on Alabama Public Radio at 7:35 a.m. and 4:44 p.m. Recently retired as English professor at The University of Alabama, Don's specialties are Southern and American literature. Don also hosts Bookmark on Alabama Public Television.