Edgar-finalist Haddam's excellent 24th Gregor Demarkian novel (after 2008's Cheating at Solitaire) takes a nuanced look at the debate over teaching evolution in public schools. Demarkian, who's about to marry his longtime significant other, Bennis Hannaford, gains a welcome distraction from the last-minute preparations. In Snow Hill, Pa., someone bludgeons 91-year-old Ann-Victoria Hadley, leaving her in a coma. The detective soon learns that Hadley, a recent addition to the school board, was the focus of a heated local controversy for her role in a lawsuit aimed at preventing intelligent design from being taught at the town's schools. While the victim remains unconscious, her assailant strikes again, killing two women who were also plaintiffs in the civil action. Haddam makes characters on both sides of the issue sympathetic, explores the inner life of her detective hero without cluttering up the plot-and offers an ingenious fair-play puzzle. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Living Witness: A Gregor Demarkian Novelby Jane Haddam
In her 91 years, Ann-Victoria Hadley has often been the most hated person in Snow Hill, Pennsylvania. But now, it's worse than ever. After a new school board inserted "intelligent design" into the curriculum, they were sued by a coalition including Hadley, the one member of the board who wouldn't go along with the rest. With the trial about to start and the town a
In her 91 years, Ann-Victoria Hadley has often been the most hated person in Snow Hill, Pennsylvania. But now, it's worse than ever. After a new school board inserted "intelligent design" into the curriculum, they were sued by a coalition including Hadley, the one member of the board who wouldn't go along with the rest. With the trial about to start and the town a national laughing stock, Annie-Vic is found clubbed into unconsciousness and not expected to survive. The local police chief, one of the school board members, can't investigate it himself and doesn't trust the state police. So he brings in Gregor Demarkian.
Gregor Demarkian, former FBI agent, is happy to help—his wedding is coming up and he's desperate for a bit of time away from his too-involved neighbors on Cavanaugh Street in Philadelphia. Even if it is to investigate a brutal crime in a powder-keg of a small town.
Evolution and intelligent design go head to head in Haddam's 24th Demarkian crime novel. The ex-FBI agent helps a local police chief in a small Pennsylvania town investigate the murder of an elderly woman who sued the school board for incorporating intelligent design into the curriculum. Repetition and an overly long telling make this one for devoted series fans only.
Jo Ann Vicarel
Read an Excerpt
A Gregor Demarkian Novel
By Jane Haddam
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2009 Orania Papazoglou
All rights reserved.
Gregor Demarkian had not been part of the staging of his first wedding — and he would never have used "staging" to describe it, because he'd have been set on by dozens of little old Armenian ladies, wanting to know why he had no respect for the Church. He was using "staging" to describe what was happening to his second wedding, though, because it was a word even Father Tibor Kasparian couldn't object to, under the circumstances. And the circumstances were getting more insane by the day. It had reached the point, this morning, that Gregor had been convinced he was hearing things. As it turned out, he wasn't, and the sound of Bennis's voice floating in from the living room was just an aspect of reality he hadn't been smart enough to anticipate.
"You give the swans something to make them constipated," she was saying. "That way, they don't crap all over the buffet."
Gregor was lying in bed, which made him feel more than a little guilty. It had to be seven o'clock. He was usually showered and dressed and on his way to the Ararat by now. Even the gloom of the day outside didn't give him any excuse for slacking off. He lived in gloomy days. He had chosen to spend his life in Philadelphia instead of the South, which was where most of his colleagues from the Bureau eventually retired. He had nothing against the South, as far as he knew. He had nothing against sunny days and temperatures that never dipped far below forty. He was just used to Philadelphia, that was all. He thought of it as home.
Bennis Hannaford also thought of Philadelphia as home, which made sense, since her people had been here long before Gregor's had. If America was a nation of immigrants, then people like Bennis relied on a lot of history to prove their immigrant status. In the case of the Hannafords, her father's people, that meant an arrival date of 1689. In the case of the Days, her mother's people, it was even earlier. Gregor could never remember if there had even been a colony of Pennsylvania when Bennis's mother's people arrived, but he didn't dare ask, because Bennis would tell him. Bennis would be the first to point out that she had severed herself entirely from the tradition embodied in her father's great house on the Main Line, but she could reel off the family history like the secretary-general of the Social Register.
Did the Social Register have a secretary-general?
Gregor had no idea. In the other room, Bennis was off the phone. He could hear her moving around, through the swinging doors that led to the kitchen and then back again. They talked frequently about connecting their apartments to make a duplex, but they never got around to it, and now it wouldn't matter. He wondered what else wouldn't matter, in the change that was coming as surely as the date of the wedding. He wondered about the wedding, too. It was March. He was hardly back from Margaret's Harbor. The wedding was the first week of May. That had seemed like a long time only a couple of weeks ago, and now it seemed right here, right now, right away.
Gregor was not having doubts about wanting to be married. He had wanted to marry Bennis for years. He was only having doubts about the way the world worked, and whether it could ever work in such a way as to make things come out right.
He sat up and then swung his legs until they were out of the bed and on the floor. The bedroom was not so much a mess — he didn't mind a mess; you could always clean a mess — as a tribute to chaos. There were long lengths of ribbon in a dozen colors over everything. Bennis kept changing the color she wanted for the flowers for the ceremony. There were at least two plaster of paris models of the Forest of Zedalinnia, which was a new locale in the book that would be coming out while they were supposed to be on their honeymoon, which was not going to be so much a honeymoon as a book tour. There were chocolates. Bennis said that the chocolates were to help her figure out which ones she wanted in the favors, but Gregor thought she'd made up her mind about that weeks ago and now only needed an excuse to make order after order from Box Hill. The orders came in purple boxes and the purple boxes were the same shade as at least one of the ribbons that kept getting into everything.
I can't get married in six weeks, Gregor thought, standing up. But that wasn't actually true. He could get married right this minute. He could grab Bennis and take her off to Maryland or one of those places where you were supposed to be able to get married in no time flat, and that would be all right — that would be fine. It was the preparations that made him feel as if he were running out of air. It was that, and the questions they had never answered, the issues they had never resolved. Those were coming, and he knew it.
Gregor got up and went in to the bathroom. His robe was lying across the top of the clothes hamper, looking damp. Bennis was always using his robes when he showered. Gregor shucked off his clothes and tried to make a list in his head of all the things that were making him nervous, but there wasn't a list to be made.
He turned on the water and then made it run hot, so hot he would hear about it from old George Tekemanian downstairs. Old George Tekemanian was convinced that Gregor was using all the hot water in the hot-water heater, which Gregor just might be. Gregor closed the door to the bathroom but didn't lock it, because Bennis liked to come in and talk when he was in the shower. Father Tibor said she did that because she could spring anything on him, and there wasn't much he could do about it when he was a wet as a drowned rat and covered with soap. Gregor got in under the shower spray and pulled the shower door closed behind him. The hot water felt like a massage against his skin.
There were no real issues to be resolved between Bennis and himself. They had been together long enough, and she had been enough of a pain in the ass, so that most of those things had been worked out long ago. No, it was the two of them and their relationship to Cavanaugh Street that needed to be worked out, because up to now they had been winging it. It was odd how that went. There was no such thing as a free lunch, and what you paid for a place like Cavanaugh Street was a certain amount of respect and obedience to the morals and traditions of the place.
And that, of course, they had not done.
Gregor put shampoo in his hair. It was a new shampoo Bennis and Donna had brought him from Antwerp when they were off doing — he didn't know what. That was months ago. The shampoo smelled like peaches, which he didn't think was a very good choice, given Antwerp. Was he really making that kind of cultural connection in his head? Apparently he was.
That was the problem, though. That had been the problem all along, and he had been privileged to pretend it was no problem at all, because mostly nobody had brought it up. But six weeks from now or so, there was going to be a wedding, and there was no way that wedding could take place in Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church.
Gregor put his head against the side of the shower. There. He had said it.
There was an issue, and the issue was about religion.
Actually, for most of Gregor Demarkian's life, religion had been not so much an issue as a fact of life. It was a fact of life for every immigrant community, and Cavanaugh Street had been an immigrant community when Gregor was growing up there. In then mostly Catholic Philadelphia, belonging to something called the "Armenian Apostolic Church" was just odd. It didn't engender hostility as much as incomprehension, and once the worst of the incomprehension was gotten through — yes, that was a Christian church, and yes, Armenian families did celebrate things like Christmas — most non-Catholics simply assumed it was a way of being Catholic. By the time Gregor had reached the eighth grade he thought he understood that. Protestant churches were plain and had a lot of singing from the congregation. The minister stood at the front and talked a sermon, wearing either ordinary clothes or the sort of robe people wore to graduate from college in. Catholic churches had priests in robes that were very elaborate and embroidered with thread that shined in the light of the candles flickering at the shrines that lined the sides of the sacristy. Instead of sermons there were rituals, with lots of raising up of things and bowing down to them, all in a foreign language. Even most Catholics in Philadelphia couldn't have told the difference between Armenian and Latin. Gregor himself knew only because he spoke enough Armenian to get by at home.
When had religion become an issue again? he wondered, picking up the bar of black clear soap Bennis liked to use because — well, he had no idea why. She just did. He didn't think it had been an issue when he first came back to Cavanaugh Street after he'd retired from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That was just after his wife had died, and she had been buried out of Holy Trinity Church with no fuss or bother whatsoever, even though neither she nor Gregor himself had been inside a church of any kind for years, except to go to other people's weddings and funerals. That was when the priest at Holy Trinity had been an old man from Armenia who was inches from retirement. Gregor had wondered why the man hadn't wanted to go straight back to the old country on the nearest boat, since he spoke almost no English at all and made it clear he wasn't interested in learning. Maybe the only reason religion hadn't been an issue when Elizabeth died was that Gregor and Father What's-His-Name had no effective means of communication. Maybe Father What's-His-Name would have objected if he'd realized that Elizabeth hadn't so much as taken communion on Holy Thursday in a decade, and that Gregor thought he might not believe in God at all. It was hard to know what would or would not have been an issue, though, because Gregor had not been in good shape after Elizabeth died. It was possible that Father What's-His-Name had asked all kinds of questions about his and Elizabeth's spiritual life, and he had just answered with whatever had come into his head at the moment. If he hadn't already fallen away from whatever faith he'd been raised in, Elizabeth's dying would have made religion an issue with him. It had taken so long, and it had been so goddamn ugly.
He had, at the moment, no serious excuse for staying in the shower. He was washed clean, and his skin was beginning to wrinkle. The sound of the water hitting the walls of the shower stall drowned out any sound of Bennis's voice that might be coming from the living room. He wondered if she was still worrying about swans crapping on the buffet, and where the swans had come from. He couldn't remember any swans in the plans she had discussed with him up to now. That did not matter a great deal, of course. The plans she discussed with him seemed to change as soon as he left the room, or maybe she felt it was better not to tell him everything. He was a little alarmed at the idea of swans wandering around the reception ... possibly eating the flowers.
Did swans eat flowers?
There was an old phrase from the Catholic churches that he remembered from when he was a kid: washed in the blood of the lamb. People who were cleansed of their sins were said to have been washed in the blood of the lamb. He had a distinct memory of trying to explain that reference to Leda Arkmanian — the bit about sins, the bit about sacrificial animals slaughtered on altars — and having her break down in tears at the thought of the poor little lambs with their throats cut and their blood running down, poor little things that should have been kept as pets. They'd both been eight years old at the time, and even then he'd had sense enough not to point out that somebody must have killed a lamb if she was having lamb for dinner.
If he was going to be washed clean of his sins, what sins would he be washed clean of? Sin wasn't a category he had thought of much in his adult life. It seemed to be something beyond crime and yet worse than crime, somehow, something there didn't have to be a law against to be wrong. Most of the things Gregor felt guilty of were things he had failed to do, not things he had done wrong. There had been an old woman on a street corner in D.C. when he was working in the area. She was homeless and she stood every day near the bus stop where he got off to go into the Justice Department and do paperwork that first year he'd been assigned to a desk. It was cold and getting colder, and every time he saw her he thought he should get her a pair of gloves for Christmas. He should just buy a big, heavy men's pair, thick and lined with wool, and drop them off beside her one morning as he passed. He thought about it and thought about it, but he never did it. Then, one morning, she was gone.
That incident must have happened thirty years ago, but Gregor could remember it. There were, in his past, a couple of incidents like that that were still completely clear in his mind. If he had believed in God, this was the kind of thing that would have made him believe. All that verbiage about "proofs," and the frantic scrambling about what did and did not constitute science and what did and did not explain the universe, was lost on him. No, it was this kind of thing — that young woman at the grocery store the first week he'd been in Philadelphia, trying to buy a turkey breast and a little package of raw carrots, obviously borderline mentally retarded, obviously hungry, with a food stamp card that wouldn't work. He'd thought of passing over a twenty and taking care of it for her, and then she was gone, and he was left to think about it. That had been at Christmas, too. If he ever decided to believe in God, it would definitely be because of things like this, things that sometimes made him wonder if somebody was trying to tell him something. What would God be like, if He existed?
Gregor got out of the shower and found a towel. Ever since Bennis had started spending more time here than she did in her own apartment, the place was full of towels. She liked good towels, too, thick and soft. He dried himself off and looked at his face in the mirror. He needed to shave. He had the kind of beard that needed to be shaved at least twice a day. He was not a postmodernist, and he was not a moral relativist. He knew there was real evil in the world. He had seen it. He just couldn't put that knowledge together with all the other things people wanted him to believe, and he knew that if he couldn't believe, Father Tibor was not going to officiate a wedding for him in Holy Trinity Church. And the odd thing was, that wasn't actually the problem. Neither Gregor nor Bennis had expected to be married in the local church, and Father Tibor had not expected them to want to be. It was everybody else on Cavanaugh Street who was causing a problem, and they didn't look like they were going to back off any time soon.
The only time people should think about religion is when they're dead, Gregor thought. Then he thought had if anybody heard him say that, even Bennis, they would think he was crazy. Still, he knew what he meant. He also knew it wasn't what it sounded like he meant. He wondered what people were like, inside their heads, when they knew they were going to die. He had been with Elizabeth at the very end, but she had not been up to communicating, and she might not even have wanted to. Surely there had to be some reason, somewhere, that explained all of this.
He got a robe and went into the bedroom. He got a clean pair of boxer shorts out of the drawer and put them on. It was never safe for him to go into his living room without boxer shorts these days. The place was always full of women planning things.
He went out into the hall and listened. There was no sound at all. Either Bennis had left the apartment, or she was off the phone for the first time in six days. He went into the living room and looked around. The swinging door to the kitchen was open, and Bennis was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking a cup of tea the size of a serving bowl, with papers stretched out everywhere in front of her.
She looked up at him, checked out the robe, and wrinkled her nose. "John Jackman called," she said. "He said he had an odd sort of favor to ask you."
Excerpted from Living Witness by Jane Haddam. Copyright © 2009 Orania Papazoglou. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Meet the Author
JANE HADDAM, finalist for both the Edgar and the Anthony Awards, is the author of over twenty novels. She lives in Litchfield County, Connecticut.
Jane Haddam, author of more than twenty novels, has been a finalist for both the Edgar® and the Anthony Award. She lives in Litchfield County, Connecticut.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I have become a great Gregor Demarkian and Jane Haddam fan! I love mysteries and have read a lot. Just found Jane Haddam and have glommed everything she's written since. These are not all action but they are a great combination of action and thinking. There is also the unity and love shown from the Armenians for each other that I think is seen over and over in townships, cities and areas all across the world.
The typos alone make this book a poor read. Did anyone proofread this book? The editor should be ashamed. Follow those errors with a bizarre plot,and this book becomes hardly worth the time. I did finish the book only because I have several books by this author that I have enjoyed. I kept hoping for improvement, but it only got worse. I will carefully consider before buying this author again.
I always like the Gregor Demarkian novels. This one was expecially interesting because of the controversy about evolution.
Philadelphians Gregor Demarkian and his longtime significant other Bennis Hannaford prepare for their upcoming wedding. However, in Snow Hill, Pennsylvania someone batters nonagenarian Ann-Victoria Hadley; the elderly woman clings to life, but is in a coma. Skipping the egomaniac state police, Snow Hill Police Chief Gary Albright asks former FBI agent Gregor to investigate the attempted murder. He readily agrees so he can escape the last second wedding preparations as he did recently when he fled to Margaret's Harbor in New England to conduct an investigation (see CHEATING AT SOLITAIRE). He begins his inquiries seeking who might want Ann-Victoria dead. He learns she just became a member of the school board after she co-filed in court a civil lawsuit to prevent the teaching of intelligent design in the town's public schools. Two other plaintiffs in that lawsuit are soon killed. Gregor fears a creationist is behind the assault until additional clues make him consider a detour outside the intelligent design debate. The prime plot, the whodunit investigation, is superb as always in this great series. This entry is enhanced by a look at the Intelligent-Design-Evolution education debate as Jane Haddam insures the arguments of both sides are lucid and each side's supporter sharp. However, Gregor's inquiry remains the focus even with a deep look at the dispute over what should be taught as part of a public school science curriculum. Harriet Klausner