Armstrong House sits on Fogland Point, overlooking Narragansett Bay. It’s the spooky old place that David Hazard remembers as the scariest spot to hang around on Halloween. The mansion has fallen into disrepair now, but David still thinks of it as super creepy. He grew up in Little Compton, a small town where nothing happens. We can’t always choose where we live in our childhood years, but we sure can when we’re old enough. So David chose to leave as soon as he could. Not all of his memories from that time are good ones. Now, reluctantly, he’s come back after receiving a frantic call from his grandmother...he heads out in a panic late at night and arrives to find her dithering around her house. Exasperated, he finally coaxes something close to the real story out of her, discovering that the problem did not lie with his grandmother but with her neighbor. Poor Emma. She will be missed.
The story has an interesting first person narrator, David Hazard. He is realistic and fairly pragmatic, but without a drop of cynicism and I liked him immediately. The tale is very much character driven, starting when David has to return home from his post at a City university after gaining his PhD. He moves in with his grandmother Maggie, to help take care of her with the loving help of the 'Laughing Sarahs', and run from the rumours at the University. Maggie is one of the ‘Laughing Sarahs’, a group of elderly matriarchs who know each other’s secrets and those of the town. Constance, Irene, Emma and Maggie are the heart of this story, partly due to the esteem in which they are held within the town, their place in David’s life since he was a child, and their own entwined pasts and deep friendships. Maggie is so important to David, but sadly is being lost to the heartbreak of Alzheimer’s. This makes life slightly difficult, as she might hold the key to what happened when Emma is found dead in her kitchen. Was it an accident? Surely, no one would murder a sweet old lady? When it is discovered how much sweet Emma was worth and some strangers turn up at the funeral, things are not so clear cut.
...Narrator David Hazard has returned to his fogbound New England village to care for Grandma and tend his own secret, which will stay secret here, just in time to encounter a murder. Grandma’s pal, the octogenarian lady next door, has had her skull bashed in. Getting a grip on what happened means probing layers of betrayal as well as murder. Turns out the past half-century has been an elaborate smokescreen, a carefully orchestrated flimflam to cover up something that shouldn’t have happened. Burgess handles the revelations with an effective mix of wry humor and tough-guy violence.
According to history professor David Hazard, the sly narrator of Burgess’s masterly first novel, nothing ever happens in Little Compton, R.I., his hometown, but he’s soon proved wrong after he sets out from Boston on receiving a garbled phone message from his Grandma Maggie claiming that she found a body. David doubts there’s been a murder, but he fears that Maggie’s dementia is worsening...When David arrives in Little Compton, he discovers Maggie’s best friend and next-door neighbor, Emma, is indeed lying dead on her kitchen floor. Was Emma murdered? Was Grandma remembering another incident?...In his search for answers, David stumbles on more family secrets than he could ever have imagined. Elegant prose, a veritable Chinese box of puzzles, and authentic, well-rounded characters make this a standout.
Maggie Hazard’s phoned her grandson so many times to report imagined emergencies that he lets her latest call go to voicemail. This time the message turns out to be about her discovery of a bloody corpse in the kitchen. After he finally listens to it, David Hazard, who’s just been let go because a required medical form revealed his birth name as Rosalie, packs his overnight kit and heads for Little Compton, the end-of-the-line spit of New England shoreline where his widowed grandmother lives with encroaching dementia. She shows no more signs of wear and tear than usual, but Emma Godfrey, the next-door neighbor who lavished her with care, has been killed by a collision with a frying pan ... Even though you’d think that nothing ever happens in Little Compton, David observes tellingly that 'The secret to village life is concealment,' and pretty much every single member of the cast turns out to be hiding some remarkably dirty laundry ... Readers who can accept the wildly improbable explanation behind the carnival of crime in Little Compton will find Burgess’ debut strongly evocative of a distinctive place, presented in a compelling first-person voice that manages to be beyond illusions but never cynical