I Love You More by Jennifer Murphy
What are the chances: I seem to be island-hopping this week … at least aurally (too bad it’s not literally). Thanks to superb full cast-narrations, I can almost feel those ocean breezes, not to mention the stinging slap or two of shocking revenge. From yesterday’s Jar Island in Burn for Burn, I somehow immediately landed on Cooper’s Island for more triangulated mayhem and, in the seemingly genteel South, a touch of murder, as well.
Oliver Lane lies dead in a rented beach house. By the time the police arrive, his wife Diana is in silent shock. His 11-year-old daughter Picasso is urged outside to finish her sand castle because she’s “seen enough already.”
But a couple of days later, Julie Lane reports her husband Oliver missing. And then Roberta Miles reports her husband Oliver Lane gone. In life, Oliver was one busy man with three wives, three sets of children, three full families.
Each Mrs. Lane insists she wasn’t aware of the others. But Picasso knows otherwise. Precocious Picasso listens, watches, learns. She’s too smart for her peers with a prodigious vocabulary, encouraged and enabled by her dictionary gifting father who calls her “all kinds of random P words, so [she] would learn them” – from Partita to Pimpernel to Pinion. Ironically, the only time Oliver calls her by her actual name is the only time he shows his true self. Named for a Pablo Picasso quote, “Art is a lie that makes us realize truth,” precocious Picasso will have to navigate between her life and her father’s death to decipher the true meaning of her father’s oft-repeated seven-word phrase: “I love you more than life itself.”
Jennifer Murphy‘s smart, addictive debut novel is part Greek tragedy, part southern gothic, part sordid thriller. The crime, its motives, its execution, its consequences are revealed by multiple voices: Picasso leads, supported by the coven-ly choral “Wives,” the too-quickly invested Detective Kennedy, and even a surly confession from beyond the grave.
Murphy falters slightly near novel’s end with an exaggeratedly paranormal interlude of ominously screeching birds and sudden gusts of champagne glass-shattering winds, not to mention the unbelievability of two grown men successfully hiding for hours in a single tree trunk. So, too, the whodunnit is admittedly obvious. But really, these prove to be minor quibbles because needing to know exactly whydunnit and howdunnit will keep you captive until the very last revelations.