REVIEW:  Amagansett by Mark Mills

REVIEW: Amagansett by Mark Mills

Dear Mr. Mills,

AmagansettYour first novel takes place in the summer of 1947 on Long Island, in and near the Hamptons, where the wealthy have summer homes. Not far from the Hamptons is Amagansett, a working class community. The two communities coexist side-by-side, but not without tension. Through political maneuverings in the state government, the wealthy are trying to take the fishing rights away from the local fishermen.

As the book opens two Amagansett fishermen, Conrad Labarde and Rollo Kemp, pull up something unexpected in their net: the body of a young woman in her twenties.

Both Conrad and Tom Hollis, the police officer who is sent to the scene, notice that the dead woman drowned while still wearing her earrings. And that makes both of them suspect foul play.

After investigating for a bit, Hollis identifies the woman as Lillian Wallace, daughter to a very wealthy businessman. Lillian’s grief-stricken brother Manfred is a man with political ambitions.

Why and how was Lillian murdered, and can the crime be proved? The main characters are Tom Hollis and Conrad Labarde, who both want to know the answers to these questions.

Hollis is a former New York City investigator falsely accused of police corruption and sent to Long Island after his success as an investigator made him powerful enemies. His ex-wife has recently divorced him to be with another man, and since then he has let his house go and his life disintegrate.

He does have two friends, a photographer and his girlfriend, who try to cheer him up. In the course of investigating Lillian Wallace’s death, Hollis becomes romantically involves with Mary Calder, a divorcee with strong ties to the community. The relationship gives Hollis hope for the future, but his dedication to the investigation threatens to come between him and Mary.

As for Conrad, a minor spoiler revealed about 90 pages into the book is that he was Lillian Wallace’s lover. Their doomed across-the-tracks romance unfolds in flashbacks as Conrad, haunted by her death, tries to find out who killed her and why.

The skeins of Conrad and Hollis’s investigations and loves are braided together with Lillian’s brother’s perspective and together emerges a picture not just of Lillian and the reasons she ended up dead, but also of post-war Long Island.

Amagansett is therefore part mystery, part thriller and part historical fiction. It is also not just about the search for the killer's identity but also about the search for justice.

The book meanders at times, taking side trips that reveal the main characters’ histories — Conrad is a Basque who survived both the Great Flu and World War II, and his experiences of these events give Amagansett scope and texture.

The pacing of the book is stately, and in a few places (with long descriptions of fishing and hiking) too slow. There was more information about fishing than I ever wanted to know.

One of several things I loved was the homage to another book about Long Island’s wealthy, The Great Gatsby. Like F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, Amagansett is concerned not just with the seductive glamour of the rich, but also with the corruption that privilege can bring.

I recommend the book quite highly to anyone who wants to read something different. The characterization and writing were good, the period flavor excellent. I've read that you are a screenwriter and it shows in the wonderful dialogue. I could easily imagine this book being adapted for the screen. It would make an excellent period film. My grade for Amagansett is a B+.