The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 20 February 1998

Maria X

by Joan V. Herndon

The core plot of this novel hinges on the reluctance of Maria X (not her real name, though we learn what it is on page 3) to report to the police that she witnessed a crime. Though not unusual in the stereotype of New York, her motivation is never clearly justified. In fact, in the first half of this story, several of the characters had only vague motivation for any of their actions. This feeling evaporated as the story progressed, though. Maria disguises herself after a police sketch of a witness to the crime appears in all the papers. In her disguise, though, she finds herself the object of the romantic attentions of the man she is convinced committed the crime. By about half way through the book, one can correctly guess the outcome of the mystery, but there is more to the story than this. Maria X is also a psychologist. The book is populated by her patients, and they provide an entertaining backdrop to the romance/mystery being played out in the foreground. This reader wanted to know a lot more about the obsessive compulsive, the closet lesbian, and the nymphomaniac. Maria X, in her own psychoanalytcal world, is occasionally blinded by her narrow view, and by her romantic difficulties after her ex-husband shows up to complicate things further. Her family, and indeed just about everyone in the book, is as crazy as her clients. And it isn't certain if one could describe her as all that good of a psychologist. Herndon's style is conversational, like a friend telling a long and bizarre tale. There are occasional inconsistencies, but intentional or not, they contribute to the fun, busy, fast, New York atmosphere of the book.

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