Thriller sticks with reader
"Reunion at Red Paint Bay" is a page-turning psychological suspense thriller that will have readers thinking about truth, consequences and life-changing events long after they close the book. George Harrar, who writes for both adults and teens, successfully uses multiple points of view to create an eerie tale set in Red Paint, Maine.
The setting of the story is as important as the story itself. The first page shows the town's population and slogan: "Red Paint, Pop: 7,142, Friendliest Town in Maine." Harrar uses this setting to affect the way the main characters react and reason, when a stalker begins a psychological quest to reveal a secret from the past.
Even the title has a double meaning: There's an actual 25-year high school reunion that takes place in the book, but the more important reunion is the one between the stalker and main character, Simon Howe, at the bay.
Simon, editor and owner of the only newspaper in town, the Red Paint Register, was born and raised in the city. He left for only a short time to work at a newspaper in Portland, but returned home to be with his ailing parents. He met Amy, married her, had a son and bought the struggling newspaper. So although everyone thought Simon would be the one to get out of town, he never really did leave his comfortable and safe life.
When the story opens, Simon starts receiving anonymous postcards from different spots in the United States. At first, the message is ambiguous, and he thinks maybe someone wants to reward him for a good deed from his past. But soon, he realizes the postcards are menacing — and the person sending them wants to do harm and make Simon pay for an action from the past. The problem is Simon has no idea what the postcards are referring to.
This is when Harrar brings in the other point of view — the stalker's — whom readers soon discover is Paul Walker, a former classmate of Simon's, and the one who is accusing him of committing a horrible act on graduation night, 25 years ago. Because readers find out what Walker is thinking, the chapters from Simon's point of view become filled with tension.
What Harrar does so well in this book is show how a stalker can cause fear in a family and cause bonds to unravel without actually doing anything physical. It's the threat — especially to Simon's wife and child — that motivate him to create a list of anyone he's ever wronged and wonder whom the stalker might be before Paul reveals himself. The threat makes Amy paranoid about closely watching her adolescent son, who has a few problems of his own.
In the end, the book becomes about truth: What is the truth exactly? When is it all right to tell a lie? What role do guilt and conscience play in our everyday actions? Although this is an interesting theme to explore, the ending falls a bit flat. Simon's actions in the end of the book are a bit unbelievable and out of character. In spite of this, the book is still worth reading.
Harrar is an award-winning author, who writes both novels and short stories. One of his short stories, "The 5:22," won Story Magazine's Carson McCullers Prize and appeared in "Best American Short Stories (1999)." Previous novels for adults include "First Tiger" and "The Spinning Man." He also won the Milkweed Prize for Children's Literature in 2001, which is awarded to the best children's book manuscript that Milkweed accepts for publication during the year by a writer not previously published by Milkweed. "Parents Wanted" was awarded $10,000 and a publishing contract.
"Reunion at Red Paint Bay" would make an excellent book club choice, with discussion points that could cause the meeting time to run over. Readers will find themselves questioning what they would do if they were Simon or Amy or even Paul. That's the mark of a good book: one that makes you think and want to discuss with your friends!
Margo L. Dill is the author of "Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg," a middle grade historical novel. She often reviews books as a columnist for "WOW! Women On Writing" e-zine and her blog, "Margo Dill's Read These Books and Use Them" (http://margodill.com/blog/). She lives in St. Louis with her family.