Still Waters

The narrator and protagonist of STILL WATERS, thirtysomething Libby Kincaid, works as a photographer, complete with trendy New York life-style. This choice of profession not only glosses the narrative with glamor but also explains its caressing eye for detail and cool appreciation for action, moody evocation of landscape and atmosphere, and fascination with eccentric characters. Also, the photographer’s characteristic curiosity and risk-taking instincts make plausible Libby’s increasing involvement in the intrigue surrounding her brother’s apparent suicide, once she returns to her Midwest roots for the funeral. Avery Kincaid, high school science teacher and avid fisherman, is found shot to death, presumably having killed himself in depression over a bitter breakup with his girlfriend.

Lucas, Avery’s heart-tuggingly big-eyed hound, demonstrates the novel’s major problem: engaging, deftly drawn characters that stagger through huge holes in the plot. Lucas is wounded in the leg with the same gun that killed Avery, forcing questions to gnaw at Libby and others close to her brother: Why did he turn the gun on Lucas in the first place, and then neglect to finish the job? The unimaginative police officers fail to investigate, thus giving the heroine something more action-packed to do than rehash painful childhood memories; she can face her fears in the compelling context of solving a murder.

One cannot blame first-time novelist Kerry Tucker for attempting to conform to the conventions of a popular genre, yet formalized, intricate plot structuring is far from her forte. Tucker is more skillful at creating an atmosphere of mystery than at crafting a framework for suspense to build with dramatic inevitability. Moreover, she wants to say something relevant about ecology and small towns that are rotting from the inside out. Such weighty matters, unfortunately, only serve to overwhelm an already flimsy plot.

The book’s publisher notes that “Readers will eagerly await Libby Kincaid’s next outing.” They might more happily expect a domestic drama from Tucker, given her talent for conjuring time and place and her insight into the constellation of the family, with its own internal logic and forces of attraction.