Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Larry Karp

Larry Karp grew up in Paterson, NJ and New York City. He practiced perinatal medicine (high-risk pregnancy care) and wrote general nonfiction books and articles for 25 years, then, in 1995, he left medical work to begin a second career, writing mystery novels. The backgrounds and settings of Karp's mysteries reflect many of his interests, including musical antiques, medical-ethical issues, and ragtime music.

His new novel is A Perilous Conception.

A few weeks ago I asked Karp what he was reading. His reply:
My daughter claims I can't read for pleasure. She shakes her head at the way I go through a book slowly, thinking, considering, and reciting particularly apt lines aloud. I tell her, well, that is my pleasure. "Chacun à son goût."

I recently finished Revenge of the Radioactive Lady, by Elizabeth Stuckey-French. 77-year-old Marylou Ahearn has fantasized for years about killing the doctor whose experimental radioactive cocktail was responsible for the death of her 8-year-old daughter. Finally, she decides to put her plan into action. She moves to the neighborhood where the now-retired doctor lives with his daughter, her husband, and their three children, a dysfunctional family if there ever was one. But when Marylou confronts the doctor, she realizes he has early Alzheimer's, and has no recollection of his crime. What would be the purpose of killing him now, if he'd have no idea who she was and why she was killing him?

But Marylou can't let go of her fury. She shifts focus to try to destroy the doctor's family. Problem is, she gets to feel real affection for her targets, and, to the surprise of characters and reader, the story takes off in several directions, like a fireworks display out of control.

Much of my pleasure from this book came from the superb manner in which the author gives rein to her very odd characters, but never permits them to go over the edge and smother the story. And aside from their eccentricities, all the characters (with one exception) are complex and fully-developed, and the reader comes to care about them, and about the family. (That one exception is a right-wing fundamentalist preacher with a taste for young girls, who comes to a very satisfying end.)

No trouble seeing that in the hands of a lesser writer, this book would have been unreadable, and why that would have been so. In addition to the singular characters, the plot, involving as it does an unusual medical situation and very adroit blending of tragedy and dark humor, gave me a good deal to think about as I plan my own work. A real pleasure.
Visit Larry Karp's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: A Perilous Conception.

The Page 69 Test: A Perilous Conception.

--Marshal Zeringue