reviewed by Gail Byrd
Is Freddy just a stoner, a shiftless twenty-something year old who smokes too much pot, lives in his grandmother’s house, and spends his days making glass beads and drug paraphernalia? Making glass isn’t enough to live on, so he uses money being sent to his dead mother because he hasn’t reported her death to the proper people.
It seems all Freddy wants to do is drift through life, high on drugs and creating glass objects that, in spite of his drug-fogged existence, are unique and beautiful.
Or, is that just part of Freddy’s description? His grandmother is in a memory care center because she can no longer take care of herself. Sometimes she knows who Freddy is, at other times she thinks he’s her son, or doesn’t know him at all. Still, Freddy visits, takes her out in a wheelchair so she can enjoy the fresh air, puts her needs ahead of his own, while his three, middle-class respectable sisters say they can’t because they all live too far away.
While Freddy frequently makes the “wrong” decision where his own life is concerned, that all changes when he considers his grandmother first.. At the outset he is being pressured by The Leper to help launder money. Freddy wants to take care of his grandmother and that is impossible from jail, so he has decided to sever ties with the Leper. Later, when he discovers, or thinks he discovers, that cocaine is involved, Freddy is even more adamant that he won’t take part in the scheme. After all, marijuana is one thing, not REALLY illegal, exactly, but cocaine? That’s a serious drug and Freddy wants no part of it.
Freddy is suddenly thrust into a tough situation when The Leper sends some questionable contacts to pressure Freddie into cooperating. When he sees these men following him while he has his grandmother out, he flags down Mapes, (Mrs. Maple), an older woman he has met at the memory care facility, and begs for a ride.
Things go from bad to worse when there is a death at the memory care center and it turns out to be murder. Who murders someone who is institutionalized with dementia? What possible harm could they do? Is this the way The Leper and his friends are going to pressure Freddy into doing what they want? Is his grandmother at risk of being the next victim? How can he tell the good guys from the bad? Who among the staff can he trust? What about the woman who owns the store where he sells some of his glass work? Is she just a hippie store owner or is she connected to The Leper as well?
The Grandmother Plot is filled with long looks into dementia and its treatment as Freddy goes in and out of the facility, interacting with staff and residents. It includes an unlikely friendship with Mapes whose Aunt Polly is a resident. Mapes has her own guilt dating back to when she put her mother in a memory care facility and left without visiting the last two years of her mother’s life. Now she is riddled with guilt, reminding herself there is no going back and correcting poor decisions of the past.
Mapes’ biggest obsession is a room filled with “retired” musical instruments, pianos, small pipe organs, and smashed or dented brass instruments. When this obsession results in her encountering a pompous scholar and then a possibly valuable manuscript she decides to investigate on her own. Circumstances occur and when the scholar returns Mapes must ask herself has she judged him too harshly?
This book also serves as a constant reminder that people are seldom “all bad” or “all good,” and that sometimes the goodness at their core cannot be seen because of the fog created by their surface behavior. On the one hand it is difficult to like Freddy as he seems to drift through life on everyone else’s efforts. However, can you really detest someone who shows such love and care for someone who can no longer return that love? How do you categorize an individual who thinks they are choosing to do the right thing, even when their definition of right and wrong is different from yours?
More than a well-plotted mystery, which this is, this is a book that will make the reader think. It will likely cause the reader to mull over issues long after they’ve finished the book. What those issues are, how the characters are finally judged, will probably differ depending on the reader’s own experiences. One strong recommendation, read the entire book, through to the very end. The final encounters are as thought provoking as the story itself.
My thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for an advanced copy for review. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.