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THE FENS
by Pamela Wechsler
Minotaur, May 2018
336 pages
$26.99
ISBN: 1250077907


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Boston homicide prosecutor Abby Endicott bears the name of an old and moneyed family from an old and moneyed city. However, her family's wealth no longer trickles down to their daughter, who has persisted in her dangerous role of prosecuting murderers, and who has embarrassed some family members by taking up with a man of color whose job description is "jazz musician." In Abby's latest case, the Boston Red Sox star catcher has gone missing on the eve of a game. The novel unfolds as part detective novel until enough evidence is gathered to show probable cause (not to mention habeas corpus), at which point the action is played out in a courtroom. The author, Pamela Wechsler, is no stranger to the courtroom; her degree is from Boston University's School of Law, and her experience informs the details of the unfolding legal case Abby Endicott builds against the alleged murderer.

Dramatis personae: Abby Endicott, one of Boston's homicide prosecutors, born into means, who deals with her family's rejection of her chosen career by drinking away the pain; her partner, Tyrone, composer, musician, a conciliator who tries to bring Abby back to her better self; Detective Mike Chase, a policeman on a power trip; Kevin Farnsworth, Abby's police partner, of whom Tyrone is very jealous; Rudy Maddox, the Red Sox's star catcher, whom, sadly, we never do have the pleasure of meeting; his wife, Rebecca Bond, whom we meet at the spa; Francis "Moe" Morrissey, the star pitcher, handsome, rich, lauded and privileged, who believes himself better and smarter than his fellows; his fiancée, Cecilia Bond, Rebecca's sister, who really likes her money; Wayne Ellis, the replacement catcher, but not for long; Paul Tagala, the team's young towel boy; Abby's mom, dating a gold-digger; Abby's father, divorced from her mom and trying to deal with family get-togethers "in a civilized way"; police officers, jurors, a First-Amendment judge, fans, annoying reporters, grieving—and not—relatives of the deceased.

Wechsler offers us the foreground to any criminal prosecution, during which the players scramble to prove probable cause for the grand-jury indictment. This action occupies the first half of THE FENS (which is named, incidentally, for reclaimed swampland in Boston, re-branded by Frederick Law Olmsted as a grand city park, and for which Fenway Park is named). During this phase of the novel, Abby and her police counterpart Kevin Farnsworth, zip from Fenway Park, Boston's grand old baseball field, to the architect- and decorator-polished mansions, complete with nannies and household help, where the wives of baseball stars live in the full knowledge that both marriage and divorce are worth quite a bit of money. Abby puts together her case through the discovery of used baseballs mysteriously cached in the home of the missing catcher, through interviews with the pitcher, who was not where he said he was, and through the lenses of so many hidden cameras that watch our every move and do not blink.

Playing against this backdrop, Abby's wealthy family has problems that money cannot smooth over. Her mother, a committed alcoholic, has divorced her father and has taken up with a man who, she does not realize, is a gold-digger. Family members withhold their emotional support, but not their mean-spirited comments, about Abby's profession and about her partner, a jazz musician whose warm-toned skin contrasts with their own lighter shades. Abby is busy trying to rein in her consumerist propensities, which are distinct drawbacks when one has champagne tastes and a Budweiser pocketbook. Tyrone, her partner, meanwhile, is in the throes of perpetual jealousy because Abby spends more time with her police partner than with him. One other layer is teased out here. On a date, travelling in the "wrong" part of Boston, Tyrone and Abby are stopped and very roughly cuffed and frisked by a rogue police officer. They have been racial-profiled, and, without the accidental arrival of someone who knows Abby, both would have been booked into jail as drug smugglers.

Once in court, Abby fights an uphill battle. Most difficult is Moe's, the star pitcher's, attractiveness and wealth. Women jurors ogle Moe and bat their eyes at him as Abby attempts to prove her case. The judge refuses to hold Moe on bail, because of Moe's fame and wealth, and because the judge is rather too trusting, perhaps, of the goodness of very wealthy US citizens. The murdered man's mother and sister sit on the side of the courtroom reserved for the accused, and Abby's side, the side which represents the victims' families, is empty. Her task: to track down enough hard evidence to convince a jury that even the very wealthy and very successful can be very bad.

§ Cathy Downs is professor of English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and a sometime fan of the well-turned whodunit.>

Reviewed by Cathy Downs, March 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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