Aaron Paul Lazar is a writer of popular country mysteries. He is a master at conjuring up warm family life in his corner of the world — rural upstate New York — and disrupting his happy families with murder and mayhem.
Healey’s Cave is the first novel in his Sam Moore series, in which Lazar leaves the terra firma of realistic story-telling and risks entry into the “paranormal” genre. Sam, a newly retired family doctor, is a typical Lazar character — a kind, loving man who adores and cares for his wife, a sufferer from multiple sclerosis. A passionate gardener, he grows food and, with his wife, cooks it for the whole family. Sam, like Gus Legarde of the earlier series, is first and foremost a family man, and the scenes in which he interacts with the children, whether they advance the plot or not, are important in creating the atmosphere of the series.
But — enter the paranormal — Sam finds a green marble in his garden which turns out to have magical properties. I am not a fan of the paranormal genre, and I was curious about how a writer with his feet so firmly on the ground of the real world would deal with it. To my surprise, I found that I was soon able to accept the notion that Sam Moore could be whisked into the past when the mysterious green marble glowed. I could do this, in part, because the scenes of childhood conjured up by magic were not in themselves “supernatural,” but were realistic representations of events that happened when the sixty-year-old men were only boys. Lazar is good at the depiction of childhood and young boyhood. Several successful novels in the Gus LeGarde series are set in Gus’s childhood (e.g. Tremolo), so Lazar readers are used to being whisked into the past, not by magic, but by the narrative skill of the writer. Here the magic marble moves the solution of the mystery forward, but it works the way a psychiatrist (or a novelist) might work on opening up a person’s memories of the distant past.
The plot centers on the unexplained disappearance fifty years previously of Sam’s little brother, Billy. Sam’s periodic magical excursions into the past open up, piece by piece, the mystery of what happened to his brother. In the course of discovering who was responsible, we get to know three of the prime suspects, both as children and adults, best friends of Sam then and now, a very clever plot device. And threaded through the flashbacks is the knowledge that a serial killer of young boys will try to strike again. In certain sections, he speaks incognito in his own voice, another new departure for Lazar. The suspense builds slowly and the mystery is not solved until the very end, by which time Lazar has had ample opportunity to work his own narrative magic and carry even the skeptics among us on a paranormal path to the exciting and satisfying end.