Stephen Gallagher, The Painted Bride (Subterranean Press 2006)

Crime drama can benefit from brevity, if a sense of urgency and impending crisis is the result. For example, the Mary Higgins Clark novel Where Are The Children? is filled with tension as the horrific perils, plotting, and escapes are compressed into the space of less than a day. Alas, The Painted Bride by Stephen Gallagher shows the perils of brevity: poor description and undeveloped characters that leave the reader uninvolved.

The plot of The Painted Bride is straightforward: Carol Tanner has disappeared. Her husband Frank Tanner says she left him, leaving him to care for their young children Louise, age 11, and Jack, age 5. However, Mary ("Molly") Gideon, Carol's sister, is convinced that Frank killed her. As a recovering heroin addict, Molly isn't the most credible person; so she tries to frame Frank by using her own blood to get him arrested.

Events progress when Jack paints a picture -- "The Painted Bride" -- that the police believe signifies that Jack saw his mother killed. Then Molly kidnaps the children to get them away from Frank. Then there are chases. Then people get hurt. Then there are more chases. Then more people get hurt. This repeats to the end of the book.

In this book, Gallagher appears to have become so enamored of his basic ideas that he fails to flesh them out. Both character description and development are virtually nonexistent, as if he felt a quick introduction was all the reader needed. Many chapters are unnecessarily short, and there are few surprises or developments to draw the reader into the mystery/drama. Perhaps next time Stephen Gallagher will provide more substance to his ideas. In the meantime, skip The Painted Bride.

[James Lynch]