Monday, October 18, 2010

As Husbands Go, by Susan Isaacs

In her work, Susan Isaacs has frequently combined humor with mystery. She creates quirky characters, throws in a murder, and puts the quirky characters through a variety of humorous situations en route to solving the murder. Sometimes, the formula works. In As Husbands Go, it doesn't.

Oh, the quirky characters, the murder, and the humorous situations are all there. The main character is Susie B. Anthony Rabinowitz Gersten (even her name is quirky), a Long Island floral designer with four-year-old triplets and a plastic surgeon husband "true by nature." Then husband Jonah is found dead in the apartment of prostitute Dorinda Dillon, and Susie is forced to consider whether she knew her husband at all.

When Dorinda is arrested, Susie is not convinced of her guilt and she sets about investigating the case with the assistance of her grandmother, who has recently become a presence in her life for the first time. (The grandmother is another character with quirks to the max--as is Susie's mother, although mom's quirks are much less interesting that grandma's.) As an example of an event intended to be amusing, Susie assumes her grandmother's identity to interview Dorinda.

For me, the quirks and humorous events didn't mix well with Susie's grief and the challenges she and her children face (the children are remarkably unpresent except when convenient--evidently the twin au pairs do a good job of keeping the kids out of mom's hair) . Perhaps if the murder victim were not so close to the protagonist (if he were, for example, the neighborhood periodontist), the humor would be more effective. As is, however, it feels misplaced. Furthermore, when Susie does figure out the real story behind her husband's murder, the book just fizzles out, with neither humor nor any resolution of the emotional issues she is facing.

Favorite passage:

Life goes on, toots, whether you like the way it goes or not. The best a girl can do is mind her ethics--and eat a nice lunch.

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