I have to preface this review with a little description of the weather in East Texas. This past weekend was a beautiful one: highs in the mid 70s to low 80s, sunny without the kind of heat that bakes your skin, a light breeze. I took Friday off from work and set up my hammock in my backyard, between two trees that provide the perfect amount of shade. And I proceeded to spend approximately three hours zipping through Kim Harrington’s debut novel Clarity in that hammock, in my shorts and tank top, blissful and happy.
I say this not only to make you people who live in the frigid north jealous (how many inches of snow did you get this week?) but also to point out Clarity was a book written for hammock-reading. It’s a mystery with a paranormal twist set in New England during the summer. There’s frequent talks of beach visits and swimsuits and vacation spots. It’s the best kind of popcorn book: well-written with an engaging plot, interesting characters, a witty first-person narrative, and nothing too depressing to darken your sunny skies (metaphorically, of course, since the sun just wouldn’t go away last weekend. Your envy sustains me.).
Our protagonist is named Clarity, and surprisingly she’s not the character in the book with the most unfortunate name. (That honor belongs to her brother, Periwinkle, or Perry for short). Clarity goes by Clare (and wouldn’t you go by Clare too?) and belongs to a family of gifted people. Clare is psychic, her brother Perry is a medium, and her mother can read minds. (Can you think of a worse ability for your mother to have?) Her father left them long ago.
As a family, they run a business where they tell tourists about their lives – they can’t tell the future, but they are able to tell the tourists things like “Your husband is sleeping with his secretary.” Of course, they only relate negative news when they don’t care about being paid. They are not particularly well-regarded by the other people in town, who view them as frauds or freaks. Clare’s particular psychic ability doesn’t mean that she is all-knowing. Instead, she can touch an item and see the events associated with that item. For example, she’d be able to touch a knife and know it was used to kill someone.
Which brings us to our murder. Clare’s town is a vacation hot spot, and one of its visitors has the misfortune to be murdered in her hotel room. This has nothing to do with Clare, until her brother tells her that he had hooked up with the murdered girl the night she was killed. This makes Perry a suspect, and suddenly the murder is very personal.
And then her ex-boyfriend, the son of the mayor, asks her to help him solve the case using her special abilities. Clare and said ex-boyfriend are exes because she touched his jacket and discovered he had cheated on her with her arch-nemesis, a girl named Tiffany (arch-nemeses are almost always named Tiffany, aren’t they?). But he convinces her to help in the name of justice…and the fact that she’d also be working with Gabriel, the hot son of the new police chief, doesn’t hurt. Love triangle: there is one. It’s cute, but it doesn’t overwhelm the story. The mystery is central, and it’s a good one.
One of the things I liked best about Clarity is Clare’s voice. She’s snarky without coming across as rude or mean, and she wisecracks constantly. She’s got such a wonderfully sarcastic sense of humor. I laughed out loud three times during the first fifty pages.
Clare is a very likable protagonist, and Harrington uses this to her advantage when she writes about Clare’s relationships with others in the story, in particular her brother. Because Clare is so likable, we want to trust the people she trusts, which makes it even more wrenching when Perry is suspected. It was really nice to read a story where brother and sister are friends with each other, but the sister doesn’t necessarily idolize the older brother. Clare recognizes her brother’s faults – he tends to love and leave women, which doesn’t put him in a good place when the girl is murdered. Clare is torn between revealing Perry’s hookup to the police and keeping it secret. She knows the police don’t always arrest the correct person, and her family is already regarded as liars and frauds by the townspeople.
I wasn’t terribly surprised by the identity of the killer, but that didn’t matter a whole lot. The book kept me guessing long enough, and even if I had known from the beginning, Clarity would have been a treat to read due to the sheer awesomeness of Clare’s narrative style. It’s been awhile since I’ve read a story where the narrative voice is so distinctive and entertaining.
Clarity is very obviously the first in a series of books, but the mystery genre has always done series best. This book, like others in its genre, neatly wraps up the murder mystery but leaves open a few threads about Clare’s family and her abilities that I anticipate will be explored in future books. It all adds up to a satisfying read that also leaves you wanting more. That, my friends, is the right way to do a series.
Copy checked out from my local library.