Ballantine, Jul 2004, 24.95, 339 pp.
Penrose College alumni art historian Christine Webb explains the depths and links that make up a splendid stained-glass window at her alma mater to her audience of feminists. The masterpiece contains a portrait of the wife of glassmaker and school founder Augustus Penrose. Christine explains that the glass art pays homage to romantic poets, pre-Raphaelite paintings, and Greek mythology, etc as a symbolic look at women through the ages. Suddenly, a close friend in the audience Juno McKay shockingly observes a bloody red light that legend insists predicts death engulfing Christine.
Not long afterward Christine disappears drowns in a kayak incident. Juno refuses to accept suicide induced by a drug overdose so she begins to investigate starting with the college's founding father. She learns that Augustus married Eugenie, but loved her younger sister, the mentally fragile Clare, who later suffered a mental breakdown and tried to commit suicide by drowning. Soon she traces Clare's hospitalization to an institution for the insane where she seeks to unravel the truth as to what happened to her friend and to Clare though some people wants her silent.
Though the tale takes time to accelerate (Christine's lecture reminds me of some classes I slept through at Lehman College – though this makes the college atmosphere feel authentic), once Juno begins her intelligent amateur sleuthing, DROWNING TREE never looks back until the finish. Juno is a terrific protagonist starring in this academic mystery as she connects the dots past and present. Fans of cerebral mysteries will enjoy Carol Goodman's tale and seek other works such as THE SEDUCTION OF WATER.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner