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The Best Revenge    by Stephen White order for
Best Revenge
by Stephen White
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2003 (2003)
Hardcover, Audio
* * *   Reviewed by Anise Hollingshead

The Bible states that revenge is not to be taken up by people, but instead is a business best left alone. The Best Revenge presents us with some classic reasons why this is so.

This is the eleventh mystery featuring psychologist Alan Gregory, who lives and practices in Boulder, Colorado. Having not read the previous novels, I can't discuss the evolution of characters, but only my impressions of this current episode. Alan Gregory is still recovering from the emotional aftermath of the tragic bombing of his patient, which might have been prevented by his disclosing confidential information to the police. He has begun to feel ambivalent about his practice and distanced from his patients' needs. In the midst of his career musings, he is presented with another question of professional ethics versus societal protection.

Tom Clone has just been released from prison after serving thirteen years for the murder of a former girlfriend. New DNA evidence has been found that doesn't exonerate him, but essentially helps overturn his conviction. The circumstances of the new evidence are mysterious, as the murder weapon was found after an anonymous phone tip. Tom is now a free man, but many people still question his innocence. Kelda James is an FBI agent renowned for her rescue of an abducted child several years before. She received the phone tip about the recovered murder weapon in the Tom Clone case, and was instrumental in gaining his release. Unbeknownst to her fellow agents, Kelda is suffering from severe pain in her legs and is seeing Alan Gregory on the advice of her neurologist. Kelda begins an acquaintanceship with Tom after giving him a ride from prison on his release and ends up referring him to Alan.

An escalating chain of violence is set in motion. It appears to revolve around Tom Clone and the murder of his former girlfriend, but it quickly becomes apparent that not everything is as it seems. Alan's increasing problems of relating to his patients is set in sharp relief against a backdrop of suspicion, violence and revenge. This is a man who cares deeply about his profession and helping others, who begins to realize that some things are out of his control and that even his best guesses may be absolutely wrong. The other characters are as sharply defined, and readers gain a good sense of each one and his or her motivation. I especially enjoyed the characterization of Kelda James, whom we begin to believe we know, only to realize that we don't.

In the end, while the mystery is solved, there are many questions left unanswered about the fate of characters in the novel. As in real life, sometimes people can't be fixed, but instead continue along their destructive paths. This was my first encounter with Stephen White and his Alan Gregory series, and I'm very glad I've been introduced. An excellently plotted mystery with believable characters that are well fleshed-out, The Best Revenge reminds me of the better novels of Mary Roberts Rinehart, a mystery author from several decades ago. Why I really can't say, except to say that both authors possess a gift of characterization.

I recommend The Best Revenge as great choice for beach reading, and plan on checking out White's previous works to fill my summer.

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