#77 Crapometer

Genre: mystery

The Desperado of Brooklyn Heights

Kate Shaughnessey's hunger for a more glamorous, sophisticated life leads to romance, single motherhood, and unwitting involvement in a murder.

Kate has seldom left her blue-collar neighborhood of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. She is intelligent and strong-minded, but naïve. Most of her ideas about the world come from books, and she is convinced that Manhattan, unlike Bay Ridge, is peopled with literate, fascinating people who are her true clan. Despite family pressure to marry early and settle down in the neighborhood to raise children of her own, Kate has managed to graduate from a local college and has just landed a job proofreading for a large corporate law firm in Manhattan. Her fellow proofreaders are a quirky, interesting bunch, and Kate enjoys them, but she continues to seek the more glamorous life that seems to elude her.

When Kate meets Stephen Lodge, a rising star at the firm, she is stunned by his good looks and easy charm. He appears to be a romantic hero out of one of her books. Stephen asks her out and seduces her primarily as a lark, but her openness and vulnerability disarm him. Soon they are deeply involved. Stephen confides in Kate that he was a sickly child, pampered and protected by his mother because of childhood diabetes, and thus a target of bullies. As a young adult he worked to become physically strong and emotionally invulnerable. He now keeps his medical condition a secret from everyone but his powerful mentor, partner Jefferson Hartford, who shares the condition.

Kate moves into Stephen's apartment in glamorous Brooklyn Heights. Stephen, a product of prep schools and the Ivy League, introduces her to a new style of living, and she begins to believe she has landed in the world she dreamed about. However, their relationship, which becomes an open secret despite their best efforts, isolates them. Kate's family disapproves of her decision to live in sin with Stephen. Kate resents their small-mindedness and breaks her ties with them. She convinces herself that this is for the good.

The firm, with its rigid hierarchical structure, frowns on fraternization between attorneys and office staff. Hartford despises Kate as a lower-class opportunist, and Stephen feels he is in danger of losing Hartford's support. The other proofreaders exclude Kate, believing that she has defected to the side of the oppressors.

Stephen becomes increasingly distant and secretive and Kate suspects he is seeing Ivy, a glamorous attorney Hartford has handpicked for him. Then she discovers that she is pregnant. Stephen expresses doubt that he is the father. They quarrel, and Stephen moves in with Ivy. Kate finds herself completely alone.

At work, Kate is suddenly in trouble for errors she did not make. She suspects that Hartford is behind this witch hunt. The other proofreaders rally back to her side and try to shield her, and she begins to realize how foolish she was to abandon them for a seemingly more sophisticated life. When she is fired despite their best efforts, these friends continue to help her as they can.

After her son is born, Kate takes a low-paying teaching position in an exclusive Brooklyn Heights nursery school. She befriends a few of her co-workers, including Maureen, the school nurse, a sad and eccentric but kindly figure. One of Kate's students turns out to be the son of her nemesis, Jefferson Hartford, and his young second wife.

The morning after Hartford fails to show up for a parent-teacher conference, Kate finds his suffocated body in the supply closet of her classroom. Her horror turns to panic when she learns that she is a suspect. The fear that she could be separated from her baby drives her to do her own detective work. When family members turn up to help her, she is forced to reexamine her willingness to leave Bay Ridge behind.

Kate discovers that Hartford and Stephen were involved in a ring that smuggled young Thai women into the United States, forced them into prostitution, then blackmailed their clients. Suspicion then points toward Stephen, and he is arrested.

Despite the evidence and pressure from her friends to forget him, Kate refuses to believe that Stephen was involved in Hartford's death. She is forced to acknowledge that he is weak, self-serving, and duplicitous, but she believes that if he truly loved anyone besides himself, it was Hartford; besides, the evidence against him does not add up. She continues to dig into Hartford's history.

A friend attends Hartford's funeral and reports that Maureen, the school nurse, was greeted affectionately there by Hartford's grown sons from his first marriage. Kate follows this trail, eventually meeting Hartford's son Andy, who hates his father. Andy tells her that Maureen had worked at the school he and his brother attended, and her son, Tim, was his best friend. Tim had contracted HIV through a transfusion, and Hartford led a successful movement to force him out of the school. Soon afterward, Tim died, and Maureen's marriage collapsed.

Maureen confesses to the murder. She came upon Hartford, who was disoriented from a hypoglycemic episode, while he was waiting alone for his conference with Kate and impulsively injected him with his own insulin.

At the book's end, Kate is cautiously hopeful for the future. She has developed a more nuanced understanding of human nature and an enhanced appreciation for family and community, and she has begun to explore new romantic possibilities.

This is a good synopsis. As a clever Snarkling pointed out in the comments trail last night when I excoriated someone for over used plot elements “it’s the writing that counts”. I’d look for really vivid writing in the sample pages.

You’ve got very very traditional plot here. However, I like very much the fact that “Prince Charming” doesn’t rescue her, she rescues herself.


Dee said...

Hey, I was born in Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn...and my mom is a died-in-the-wool Brooklynite...

I'd read this in a heart beat!

Jo Bourne said...

>>> my mom is a died-in-the-wool Brooklynite...<<<<

That's a hart weigh two go.

Anonymous said...

I thought Stephen was the diabetic. Why does Hartford have insulin?

LJCohen said...

It's in the synopsis--it notes that Hartford also is a diabetic.

Kristin said...

I like the way you tied elements together. The glycemic shock thing didn't come out of nowhere.

Moncrief Speaks said...

Bay Ridgers idealizing Manhattan... see also Saturday Night Fever.