Pulitzer- Capa-Award winning photojournalist Jordan Glass, who follows in the footsteps of her revered father, MIA in Vietnam, comes across the Hong Kong art exhibition by chance. In a small room of a Hong Kong gallery also displaying pure, antique water colours, Jordan discovers a series of increasingly realistic paintings depicting nude women in baths - at first possibly unconscious, the marble skin and non-reflective eyes look less like unconsciousness and more like death in each painting. Numb to the reactions of the other viewers, all men, Jordan is shocked to see the last painting - the dead women in the bath is her.
Or, more accurately, her twin sister Jane, missing for thirteen months. Jane left her maid caring for her two beloved children in their New Orleans home for her usual afternoon jog and never came home. The FBI consider her disappearance part of a chain of missing women, presumably taken by a serial killer - none of the bodies have been found and no clue about the abductors identity or motive has been found. Until now.
Though vastly dissimilar in temperament and lives, Jane and Jordan shared a bond, and though she was half way around the world when Jane vanished, Jordan felt her absence immediately. Never recovering from the disappearance of her father, Jordan is determined to be involved in the search for Jane, even if it will only result in discovering her body. But Jordan is unprepared for the twists in the case, the callous inhumanity of the killer, the attraction she feels to one of the agents, and the wholly unexpected connection to her father.
This was my first encounter with the prolific Mr Iles, and I was impressed. The plot is tangled but not unecessarily so, there's a believable amount of coincidence, the central character is strong and well defined, the secondary characters are less clear but individualised, the basic premise is satisfyingly resolved, and the writing is lucid.
I found two sections that particularly spoke to me, wholly out of context. The first was an Oscar Wilde quote: "Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming," which seemed particularly relevant in light of the hysteria over photographer Bill Henson's most recent exhibition.
The second related to my interest in death work and respect for the dead:
"We cover corpses for the same reason we go behind walls to carry out our bodily functions; some human states cry out for privacy, and being dead is one of them. Respect above all is called for, not for the body, but for the person who recently departed it."
Of course, being of like mind is not enough. Isles writes lucid, engaging prose and his characters have understandable motivations. The plot is sufficiently convoluted to interest without Byzantine twists, and his depiction of Jordan's grief-striken brother-in-law, both attracted to Jordan because of her similarity to Jane and simultaneously repelled, was brilliantly done. I'll definitely be trying another of his works. - Alex