odi Picoult's new novel is as current as today's sordid headlines: rape, incest, Satanism, hazing, abuse of power and corrupt police departments. Part legal thriller and part psychology manual on teenage behavior, Picoult's entertaining book tackles a lot of territory.
Jack St. Bride, former soccer coach and son of a New York socialite, is out of jail and starting over. He chooses the town of Salem Falls, New Hampshire, to begin his new life. There seems to be little more to Salem Falls than the Do-Or-Diner, where everyone spends at least a few minutes of every day, and Duncan Pharmaceuticals, the town's major industry. On the surface, Salem Falls looks like any small New Hampshire town, with its collection of laborers, bored high school students and second- and third-generation inhabitants. Newcomers are subject to suspicion, and Jack St. Bride is a newcomer with a secret. By law, Jack must report his secret to Detective-Lieutenant Charlie Saxton: he is out of jail on parole as a sex offender.
Picoult has written a novel of intrigue and deceit. On one layer it is the story of the wrongly accused Jack and the small-town mentality unwilling to allow him to settle into a new life with the woman who loves him. On another level, it is a story of truth, lies and secrets. Every character has a secret, and all those secrets lead to the book's final page. There is the diner owner, Addie, who was raped as a teenager by unnamed perpetrators who still live in town. Teenage girls dabble in Wiccan ritual and illicit drug use. Jack, though innocent of the crime he served time for, must face similar accusations in Salem Falls.
Secrets, slowly revealed, are what makes this novel compelling. The trial, both in the court of small-town opinion and the court of law, is at the heart of this story. The investigation into the forensic evidence of the case is fascinating. The courtroom drama, with its look into the lives of just about every person in town, is a fine balance between soap opera and the law. Right when the reader feels she has figured out all the mysteries and tied up the last loose string, Picoult leaves one final surprise for the last paragraph.
Robin Smith teaches school in Nashville.