Book Review: The Dangers of an Ordinary Night by Lynne Reeves

When two girls go missing and only one returns alive, explosive family secrets come to light in Lynne Reeves's The Dangers of an Ordinary Night.

Can a parent’s worst nightmare be the result of unintended consequences? Perhaps. Two high school girls go missing one autumn evening after they audition for a play at Boston’s prestigious Performing Arts High School. June Danforth and Tali Carrington are best friends. The last sighting of the pair is on a grainy surveillance tape. Two days later, the girls are discovered on a beach near Scituate: June is dead. Lying beside her is a chilly, disoriented, and distraught Tali Carrington.

The three main characters are Tali’s mother Nell, Cynthia Rawlins, a therapist hired by Nell, and Detective Fitz Jameson. Cynthia provides a therapeutic bridge between stressful parents and an anxious, fearful child, which Tali Carrington certainly is. Nell, Cynthia, and Fitz have complicated backstories which eventually intertwine. 

The first order of business for the police is to zero in on anything untoward in the home life of the victims. Nell was out-of-town on a job interview the night of the audition, leaving her easily-distracted husband Zeke to man the fort. Not only did he not know what coat his daughter wore when she left that morning, but he also wasn’t aware that she didn’t come home. Unforgiveable, thinks Nell. Zeke is also known to have a long-standing gambling problem. When Tali was five, Zeke had a very unsuccessful run at the Twin River Casino in Rhode Island. He pawned his wedding ring and didn’t make it back in time to retrieve it. A master of the grand gesture, Zeke bought a huge dollhouse for Tali, more a peace offering for his wife when he broke the news of the forfeited wedding ring than a delightful gift for his daughter. These are the memories that flood Nell as she stays at Tali’s side in the aftermath of the tragedy. She has known for a long time that it is chancy to count on him.

Tali speaks briefly to the police while she is still in the hospital. Her memory is foggy but she recalls heading toward Commonwealth Avenue around eleven.

Tali states that after they made the turn, a white male in his late thirties or early forties approached them from the side. The man wore a faux fur jacket not unlike one owned by her father. At first, Tali thought it was her dad, there to pick them up.

A suggestion is made that folks to whom Zeke owed money intended to kidnap Tali and hold her for ransom but something went dreadfully wrong. Nell ignores these rumors as she bears down on mothering her traumatized daughter. Also, Nell has secrets of her own: she recently kissed Peter Danforth (June’s father), a widower. Nell was very close to his late wife Mei. How much is Tali affected by the undercurrents floating in her home? Nell decides that she and Zeke will have to rub along for the sake of their daughter.

Peter is wrong. It’s been days since he warned her that Zeke is in trouble. As flawed a person as he is, Nell is an expert at seeing through clouds of doubt, and she’s certain Zeke had nothing to do with what happened to Tali and June.

Suddenly events go into overdrive. Detective Fitz visits the Carrington house while Cynthia (Cyn) is working with Tali. Tali’s meds make her feel inordinately chilly so Nell asks Fitz if he’ll grab a blanket for her daughter from the hall closet. 

As he moves into the entryway, he realizes this is his chance to play dumb and get a look inside the closet without breaking the rules of search and seizure. If a similar jacket to the one Tali mentioned in her statement is in there, this will be the kind of God wink Ma works the beads for.

Paydirt. Fitz finds a fake fur coat dotted with blood. When he shakes it, sand spills out of it. Zeke tells the police that he hasn’t seen his coat for ages but Nell doesn’t find that credible. She tells Zeke that either he leaves or she and Tali will. She takes some comfort that in the previous months she separated her finances from job-bouncing Zeke. 

Nell and Tali take a limo to June’s viewing and the police escort them inside. It’s terribly difficult, especially for Nell who can’t imagine her grief if it were her daughter lying in a coffin. A drunk and obstreperous Zeke crashes the viewing, desperate to speak with Tali, but the police take him away in handcuffs. 

We get a glimpse of the personal difficulties that beset Cyn and Fitz. Cyn had a profitable private practice with her former partner. She poured her heart into decorating their consultation rooms. It all blew up in her face when her partner was struck off the rolls for an inappropriate relationship with a troubled client. Farewell private consulting. Fitz covered up a girl’s death ten years ago before he entered the police academy. Maddie was her name and the guilty party is his brother. It haunts him that the case is still open but his mother and sister exercise Catholic guilt to keep him toeing the line. 

Out of the blue, Cyn goes to a bar with Fitz’s sister Keira and meets Fitz on the way in. He’s there, very reluctantly, to serenade his sister on her birthday. Keira tells Fitz that as of next week, she and Cyn will be working together at Boston College. Fitz just wants to walk away but Keira lays on the pressure. 

“And Cyn—you promised to buy me a drink.”

 

Fitz smiles for the first time all day. “Keira—the travel agent who books deluxe guilt trips.”

Fitz and Cyn are intrigued by each other when they accidentally meet away from their day jobs. Fitz was once a gifted musician with a future ahead: it’s his self-imposed penance to play in dives once a week to an audience who couldn’t care less about the virtuoso entertaining them. Fitz understands, from his own experience, the pressures that the students at the Performing Arts High School live under. In fact, he “uncovers a criminal undertow involving the high school’s overachieving students, and finally sees an opportunity for personal redemption from a secret that’s haunted him for years.” 

Nell, Cyn, and Fitz have a lot more in common than trying to help Tali emerge from her ordeal intact and solve a murder. Their pasts crawl out of the shadows, refusing to be stuffed back into hoary memory banks. There is such adrenaline on the page—one wants to savor the mystery and puzzle it out while simultaneously desperately racing ahead to unlock the connections. Put aside some time when you start The Dangers of an Ordinary Night because you won’t want to put it down.

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