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by Dirk Wittenborn
W.W. Norton, June 2020
459 pages
ISBN: 1324005815

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Evie was adopted as an infant by Flo and Buddy Quimby, who eke out a hard-scrabble and sometimes illegal living in Rangeley. Buddy teaches her how to hunt, fish, and trap in the surrounding woods. Flo teaches her how to garden, cook, and can. All of these skills will help Evie become a woman to be reckoned with, although it takes a while for this to become apparent to most of the people Evie knows. Evie is a loner, mostly because she has a birthmark on her cheek; this makes her an obvious target for the casual cruelty of her contemporaries.

Mostly because of Buddy and Evie's illegal activities, Evie meets Lulu Mannheim, who owns Valhalla. Valhalla is a summer home fit for a king and Lulu is the last/lost Mannheim. To say that Evie and Lulu are from totally different worlds doesn't really begin to cover it. The effect on each life is pervasive and not always positive. Evie finds her life's work because of Lulu. She also leaves Rangeley to pursue that work; she has a child, who is the lodestar of her being. Lulu loses the love of her life, at least in part because of Evie. Her personal life takes some expected and unexpected turns over the years. Still, they remain friends.

The Mohawk Club is a recurring element in the lives of all the main female characters in THE STONE GIRL. It is never, by any stretch of anyone's imagination, a positive factor. Wittenborn slowly and carefully builds the suspense by intermixing bits of non-Rangeley situations with the those of Evie and Lulu's life in Rangeley and at Valhalla. This is where the novel begins to break down. Conspiracy theory fails for me as it gets larger; as Ben Franklin once pointed out: three people can keep a secret if one of them is dead. So the breadth and depth of the Mohawk Club's "Lost Boys" stretches credulity.

Wittenborn also takes a great deal of time in the book building the characters of Evie and Lulu only to have them at critical moments in the plot act out of character. Not giant breaks - just one or two actions at crucial moments that don't seem right. It's moments like these, as well as Lulu's willingness to spend amazing amounts of money on their final project, that make the last third of the book almost fantastical. Maybe there are thriller readers out there who don't mind this kind of thing; for those that do object to that level of "willing suspension of belief," the greater part of THE STONE CHILD is worth the read, in terms of skilled writing, character building, good use of setting (which works pretty much throughout the book), and suspense.

I have been reading and reviewing mystery fiction for over a quarter of a century and read broadly within just about all genres and sub-genres. I live in Northern lower Michigan with my spousal unit, one large cat, and 2 fairly small dogs.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, June 2020

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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