A gripping tale of guilt and grace Mary Culpepper isn't your typical modern heroine.

The lead character in Lisa Reardon's haunting new novel, Blameless, is a working-class, big-boned, tough-talking school bus driver in northern Michigan. Quite a departure from the recent rash of svelte, sophisticated Gen-Xers agonizing over their high-powered careers and tortured love lives.

Mary Culpepper is agonizing over something quite different the death of a child she transports on her school bus route. When the little girl's older sister and brother ask for Mary's help, she discovers the child's body in the closet of the family's mobile home.

Don't jump to the conclusion that this is a murder mystery. The murder and subsequent trial are not the central elements of this fine novel, but rather the means for Reardon to explore Mary's inner torments and triumphs. Without so much as a single description of Mary's appearance (save her height and weight), Reardon manages to create a character so real the reader is inescapably drawn into the dilemma she faces. Were there signs that the girl was being abused? Did she ignore them? Is she indeed blameless in the whole episode, or does she share some guilt in the child's death? These issues linger in the background like an unpleasant odor as Mary goes about the routines of her life. We meet her dysfunctional (and sometimes hilarious) family, her deeply caring and compassionate best friend (who managed to steal Mary's first husband), and her long-suffering cat Frank. With a beautifully spare writing style, Reardon captures even the mundane with uncommon grace. From a county beauty pageant to a meal at the local diner, the scenes of small town life ring true. Along the way, Mary moves cautiously toward facing the demons that have traumatized her and seared her heart. Following on her well-received first novel, Billy Dead, Blameless once again demonstrates Reardon's rare gift for creating gritty characters who enthrall and enlighten us.

comments powered by Disqus