Brian Freeman is a new novelist to me, and I almost loved his novel, Immoral. Almost.
The hero of Immoral, police Lt. Jonathan Stride, works in Duluth, Minnesota. Fourteen months ago, a local teenaged girl disappeared, leaving no trace. That’s not impossible in a place surrounded by the north woods, but it’s frustrating for Jonathan – and unbearable for her parents – that the crime hasn’t been solved. Now another young girl has gone missing – Rachel Deese. Rachel was the most beautiful girl in the local high school – seductive, promiscuous, manipulative. Was she murdered – perhaps by the predator who (probably) murdered the first girl? Or did she disappear on her own initiative? But if that’s true, she sure did an expert job of framing her stepfather for murder before lighting out for the territories.
In the course of his investigation, which will take three years to wrap up, Jonathan will puzzle over Rachel’s parents’ bizarre relationship, probe the broken hearts she left behind, meet a woman he wants to marry, travel to Las Vegas, and then meet a woman he wants to marry more. The final truth, once discovered, will be extremely complex and morally mystifying. The final judgment on Rachel – and on Jonathan – will be difficult to make.
I liked the writing in Immoral. I liked the characters too. Brian Freeman is a good writer – with one jarring exception. He takes the sex scenes way too far (in my opinion), making bedroom behavior unnecessarily explicit. There’s also a hypocritical pastor, but – oddly – the author doesn’t seem particularly outraged by the hypocrisy. Also he pushes the modern view of marriage, which holds that it is not legitimate unless there’s romantic passion. This, in my view, justifies a lot of cruelty and betrayal.
I’m not sure what to say about Immoral in the end. I found the conclusion problematic, but understandable. I’d almost be eager to read more of Freeman’s work, but the combination of near-pornographic sections, the questionable resolution, and the handling of marriage put me off a little. You might like it better than I do. There are a lot worse books out there.