Lori Roy finds darkness & Marilyn Monroe in ‘Lake County’

webnexttech | Lori Roy finds darkness & Marilyn Monroe in ‘Lake County’

“Lake County” opens with the aroma of orange blossoms, but it’s not long before you catch the scent of death. This book, the sixth historical thriller by Lori Roy, captures 1950s Florida so evocatively you might break into a sweat while you read it. Or that could be a reaction to its tense and tightly woven Southern noir plot. She kicks off the tension in the very first pages with a nerve-wracking scene in, of all places, a grocery store. It’s narrated by Addie Ann Buckley, one of the book’s main characters, an almost-18-year-old girl who’s lived all her life in the itty-bitty town of Hockta in Central Florida’s Lake County, and she cannot wait to flee it. Roy captures Addie Ann’s teenage voice, alternately dreamy and petulant, and draws us into her fear in that grocery store. She’s shopping with her aunt, who’s being pursued by a bad man named Siebert Rix, and Addie Ann is tasked with protecting her from Rix. “Until he’d stepped off the train,” she tells us, “I never knew how many corners there were in this town, spots that left a person blind to what was dead ahead.” But Addie Ann is distracted by another man. Her boyfriend, Truitt Holt, is not a bad man; she believes he’s the love of her life. But he’s problematical — her parents don’t approve of him because he makes his living running a bolita game in Lake County. It’s not just the gambling that worries them: Bolita across Florida is controlled by the Tampa Mafia, who are not kind to independent operators. Addie Ann has a plan, though. In a few days, as a birthday gift, she’ll be leaving on a six-week trip with her Aunt Jean, first to California and then to New York. She doesn’t plan to return, although her doting parents don’t know it. Instead, she’ll write to Truitt and he’ll join her in the new life she imagines for herself, a life as glamorous and glittering as the one Aunt Jean leads when she’s not visiting Hockta. The life where the world knows her as Marilyn Monroe. Roy makes it plausible by connecting her characters to the star’s real biography. Monroe, who was born Norma Jeane Mortenson, grew up mostly in foster care in Los Angeles because of her mother’s repeated bouts of mental illness. In Roy’s fictional version, young Jean bonds with Inez, a girl a few years older who often protects her. As an adult, Inez marries a man named Harden Buckley, who’s from Hockta. Their home there, with a daughter and son, becomes a refuge for Jean when the weight of being Marilyn Monroe becomes too much for her, sometimes bringing on deep depression. She drops the breathy voice, the elaborate makeup, the slinky clothes, and peels potatoes in Inez’s kitchen. It might be hard to imagine that happening, but “Lake County” is set in 1955. Celebrity culture now is a voracious monster, but in those days, blessedly free of the internet and the 24-hour news cycle, stardom was a much less intrusive affair. Monroe is an integral part of the fast-paced plot of “Lake County.” People will die, secrets will be revealed, and there will be a mind-blowing encounter with a Mafia boss in an Ybor City nightclub. Jean’s life, and Addie Ann’s, will take unexpected turns in this darkly satisfying road trip to a long-gone Florida./Tribune News Service “LAKE COUNTRY” By Lori Roy, Thomas & Mercer, $28.99 Grade: A

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