“Old houses catch threads of the people who have lived them in the same way a piece of lace does. For the most part, those threads stay quietly in place until someone disturbs them. An old cleaning woman reaching for cobwebs reveals the dreamy dance of a girl home from a first cotillion. Dance card still dangling from her wrist, the girl closes her eyes and twirls, trying to hold the moment, the memory of first love. The old cleaning woman knows the vision better than the girl herself does. It’s the one she has longed for but never lived”.
“There is a point where the life force overcomes the will and the body simply breathes itself. It just happens. It hurts like hell when you take a breath of seawater, but the hurt goes away quickly, and then you feel the flow of water and hear the music of the spheres”.
“And we are back in history in the days whern they came to get you because you were a woman alone in the world, or because you were different, because your hair was red, or because you had no children of your own and no husband to protect you. Or maybe even because you owned property that one f them wanted”.
Towner Whitney doesn’t remember why she left Salem all those years ago, when her name was still Sophya. Accordingto her, she’s crazy. Indeed, in Salem, the Whitneys are known as “quirky”. Especially Towner’s great-aunt Eva, who runs a tearoom and is a renowned lace reader. Lace reading is a form of fortune-telling – a gift that most Whitney women have, to an excent. But Towner is back now. Her great-aunt Eva is missing.
Forced to confront the memories she’s suppressed all those years ago and faced with the possibility that her great-aunt might be dead, Towner tries to get answers from Eva’s friends and the rest of her family. When Detective Rafferty appears in Towner’s life, things get even murkier. He is determined to get the answers as to Eva’s disappearance, and to put away the leader of the Calvinists. The Calvinists are an ultraconservative Christian cult named after their leader Cal Boynton who used to be part of Towner’s family. Rafferty believes Cal to be behind Eva’s disappearance, and also behind the murder of Angela Rickey, a former member of his cult who is also missing.
As Towner’s relationship with Rafferty develops, he grows increasingly concerned about her and the town and digs deeper into Towner’s past that she’s forgotten. Or tried to bury deep down. Will his findings confirm what he’s suspected a long time ago? Or will his perception of reality be completely shattered, destroying himself and Towner in the process?
When I read a mystery novel, I like to be engaged from the beginning until the very end. And I like to not be able to guess the ending until the last page. “The Lace Reader” definitely delivered on the latter. The plot twists were quite unexpected, and not in a “plot holey, out of nowhere” way at all. However, I can’t say that this novel has kept my attention the whole time. This is primarily because of the narration.
Towner is the primary narrator, and an extremely unreliable one, who narrates in first-person present tense. However, we also have another narrator – Detective Rafferty. His narration is third-person past tense. I honestly didn’t get why that plot device was necessary. Towner’s unreliability as a narrator could’ve been done just as well in the past tense. Perhaps the narration of what was happening presently was done in the present tense to distinguish it from Towner’s journals written when she was 17 in the past tense. That didn’t help though – I kept forgetting what was happening when through most of the second half of the book. Unless that was the intended effect, it wasn’t the best mystery novel technique.
Confusing the reader can work, to an extent. It worked in “Gone Girl”, somewhat worked in “Pretty Little Liars”, and it was done really well in the Dublin Murder Squad mysteries. However, it was very over-the-top in “The Lae Reader”. I finished the book two days ago and I’m just now putting the pieces together. And not all of them, even – I still have so many questions. I’m still unclear as to what really had happened to Towner during the times she wrote about in her journals. I still don’t get whether she knew that what she was writing about didn’t really happen or whether she really was as mentally unstable as she claimed. And – perhaps that’s just me – but I’m still figuring out what actually happened to Eva. Perhaps I’ll understand the book better once I read the companion novel. There is one thing I am certain of – Cal Boynton deserved what he got.
My other issue is that how sexual assault and its aftermath were handled in the book. It’s not glorified – quite the contrary. But it is made into a plot point that’s never fully explored and a lot is left up to the reader’s interpretation. It was also used for shock value. If one chooses to tackle such an intense subject, I believe that they should deal with it fully and thoroughly. “The Lace Reader” doesn’t exactly brush off over the mental anguish that follows sexual assault. However, the mental health issues are also used as a plot point and a trigger for many things. I for one felt that it wasn’t done as well as it could have been.
Towner says she is a liar at the start. The book seemed to heavily imply that she couldn’t be trusted because of what had happened to her in the past. I, for one, was quite bemused by that. Maybe that’s because my interpretation is incorrect – and I do encourage readers of this blog to send me theirs in the comments! Nevertheless, it wasn’t my favourite aspect of an otherwise very atmospheric and unique novel. My rating for “The Lace Reader” is 7/10.
You might like “The Lace Reader” if you enjoyed:
“The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly” by Stephanie Oakes
“The Returned” TV series
Have you read “The Lace Reader”? Do you have different interpretations of the events that transpired in the book? I look forward to reading your comments! 🙂
Thanks for reading this review and don’t forget to check out my Etsy charity shop before you go!