Tuesday, January 5

Living Witness - Jane Haddam

Ann-Victoria Hadley has long been the most disliked woman in Snow Hill - the opinionated, educated and wealthy daughter of the town's only doctor, she returned to the small Pennsylvanian town after she earned a degree at Vassar, but not before traveling the world and serving in the Navy, a time that was the happiest of her life even if two years of it was spent as a prisoner of war. Now 91, her only family live far away but she's often visited by the doting offspring of her siblings. When Annie-Vic is found unconscious and near death in her home it seems certain that the reason is tied up with the new school board's decision to include Intelligent Design in the curriculum, a move Anni-Vic vehemently opposed. Unheard on the board, she joined in a suit against the board, a suit that has attracted national attention and whose hearing is about to start.
Gregor Demarkian is keen to leave the chaos surrounding his incipient wedding. he'd be happy with a quiet ceremony at a registry office, but between Bennis's flourishes and the demands of his Armenian community, that is a distant possibility. When an old friend seeks his help Gregor is only too happy to oblige.
The twenty-fourth Demarkian mystery is just as pacy, interesting and involving as the first. unlike most victims in mysteries, Annie-Vic's character is both well developed and integral to the plot - but then, unlike most victims, Annie-Vic isn't actually dead. And Living Witness is strongly character driven, with several personalities well defined, from hillbilly-turned-pastor Nick Frapp to the almost willfully stupid Annie McGuffie, ex-Marine now Chief of Police Gary Albright to the highly irritating state police representative Dale Vardan. but the most interesting aspect for me was the evolution/design aspect.
Running through the novel, Haddam does a beautiful job of articulating, through her characters, both sides of the issue, including why those who support evolution oppose the 'harmless' insertion of stickers asserting that evolution is 'just a theory' and that there are alternative theories. Of particular note is the stubbornness of each side to see people in the opposing position as immoral, satanic, heathen creatures hell-bound and hell-bent on destroying Christians, their morals and mores or undereducated, stupid automatons incapable of rational thought or insight, stubbornly clinging to their outmoded beliefs and standing in the way of progress and modern life. There is sadly too little room here for me to fully describe how impressed I was with this last portrayal - Haddam moves beyond the image to the ideas and ideals underpinning these perspectives and brings them into a bigger picture about change, small and large communities, and inherited attitudes.
The mystery itself was interesting, I always enjoy catching up with Gregor and his now bride Bennis (and their always interesting relationship that, though quite different in nature, reminds me of Lynn's marriage), and I particularly liked the perspective of the unconscious Anni-Vic. But I will take away from my reading of Living Witness another perspective on the war on science that this intelligent design 'discussion' is waging. - Alex

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