Tim O’ Brien’s absorption with Vietnam continues in this murder mystery. John Wade has just lost the election that he has been working towards by a landslide. He and his wife Kathy decide that in order to retreat and lick their wounds as well as to patch up their troubled marriage, they need to take off to the Lake of the Woods. We are introduced to the characters in this setting and then told that Kathy would soon disappear. This is where things start to get interesting in this novel.
The structure of the novel allows the reader to build up a gradual profile of John and his past as well as his relationship with Kathy. We see an increasingly disturbed individual who has suffered trauma, both in the loss of his father and then in Vietnam. He uses tricks, sleight of hand and mirrors to escape the unpleasant facts of his existence. the novelist also uses these same tricks, sleights of hand and mirrors to draw the readers into a kind of whodunnit, which is really a whodunnwhat, as we never really find out what happened to Kathy.
The suspense is carefully managed and we are pulled through the narrative by the chapters entitled ‘hypothesis’ and ‘evidence’ which are interspersed with the history of John’s life.
It is a fascinating read, but as it offers no easy answers some may find it frustrating.