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Book Reviews   |    
Pretty Dead: A Jack McMorrow Mystery
Reviewed by Jackie Goldstein, Ph.D.
Psychiatric Services 2004; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.55.12.1449
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by Gerry Boyle; New York, Prime Crime, 2003, 336 pages, $23.95

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Former newspaperman and long-time Maine resident Gerry Boyle draws on his own experience in creating the setting and profession of New York Times stringer Jack McMorrow. McMorrow's profession, thanks to Boyle's imagination, has led him to accidental entanglement in cases involving mysterious disappearance, murder, and marijuana.

In Pretty Dead, the seventh in the series, McMorrow's live-in girlfriend, social worker Roxanne Masterson, investigates the case of a wealthy Boston couple suspected of abusing their five-year-old daughter. Roxanne must interview the parents; McMorrow goes along for the ride, and once again his "fun" begins. McMorrow's ingrained investigative nature is on the trail of a situation that goes beyond child abuse, as Boyle introduces one new tantalizing element after another yet always makes us wonder how these elements will surely be woven together into a unified story.

In a short preamble, a female is found buried in a small clearing hidden in the wilderness, and gender is all that we know of the apparent victim. In the first chapter, the first-person format is established as McMorrow learns about Roxanne's child abuse case. McMorrow ends the narrative of his latest adventure 325 pages later, when he's offered consolation that "the world is basically a good place…. It's just some people who aren't."

We don't have to read too far to discover the real story behind the child abuse. A quarter of the way into the book we learn the apparent identity of the murder victim introduced in the preamble. But before, during, and after the apparent resolution of those mysteries, through a maze of suicide, adultery, jealousy, and drug running (and that's only a sample), the author taunts us with the task of figuring out which characters in the world of Pretty Dead are basically good and which ones bad.

If moral and legal infractions aren't enough, psychological complications also play a major role in the story. They drive the behavior of a main character, and they appear in the dramatic climax—well, close to the climax—where we find that people aren't necessarily all good or all bad but perhaps capable of both in motives and behavior.

While the reader is trying to figure out who is good and who is bad, Jack and Roxanne are having a little problem with that themselves. They're drawn into a friendship with the charming accused couple but, from time to time, wonder about what seems too good to be true. Reading from the perspective of a psychologist, it's also hard not to wonder about the ethics of such a friendship. But Boyle is an adept storyteller, and I was glad he hadn't challenged my ethical restrictions too much. Although Boyle might not know as much about psychology as he does about Maine and reporting, he uses his knowledge well enough to create some interesting twists and a good weekend read.

Dr. Goldstein is professor in psychology at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.

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