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Book review: Murder rattles a fading South Florida neighborhood

Correspondent

‘The Other Side of Everything’ By Lauren Doyle Owens. Touchstone, 272 pages, $25

A South Florida neighborhood and three seemingly unconnected residents reel from the murder of an elderly woman in Fort Lauderdale author Lauren Doyle Owens’ engrossing debut.

In “The Other Side of Everything” a once-vital neighborhood is on the decline, serving as a metaphor for the generational concerns of the young, middle aged and the elderly. The book also explores the far-reaching results of gossip and a festering hatred.

The novel forcefully illustrates that actions are usually tinged with shades of gray. Owens perfectly captures the atmosphere and feeling of South Florida, especially Broward County, though she sets her novel in the fictional town of Seven Springs, in the “dense suburban sprawl between Fort Lauderdale and Miami.”

Adel lived in the neighborhood so long the newer residents didn’t even know her last name. She lived there when the neighbors had frequent parties, the houses “vibrant, filled with a sort of 1960s-era optimism.” Now the houses “hung heavy with regret” and illustrate the area’s “failed promise.” It seems inconceivable that Adel would be murdered, especially in the middle of the day.

Cancer survivor and artist Amy Unger lives behind Adel and she becomes obsessed with the murder. Newly separated from her husband, Amy finds her artistic nature reignited as she tries to capture what happened on canvas.

The murder makes the curmudgeonly widower Bernard White remember his time as a young father and an affair that almost ended his marriage. When other elderly women are murdered, Bernard and a few of the other men suggest the single retirees start a buddy system and live together, at least for a while, for safety.

Just 15 years old, Maddie Lowe supports herself as a waitress and tries to be strong for her younger brother since her mother abandoned the family and her father is increasingly distant.

Each character’s reaction to the murders, as well as how the invasion of violence galvanizes the neighborhood, creates a solid plot. Each realizes a strength, as well as a vulnerability, they didn’t know they had. Owens delivers a quiet mystery in “The Other Side of Everything” that expertly uncovers the emotional depth of each character.

“The Other Side of Everything” is a terrific debut.

Meet the author

Lauren Doyle Owens will discuss “The Other Side of Everything” at 7 p.m. Jan. 24 at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, 305-442-4408, booksandbooks.com; at 7 p.m. Jan. 26 at Murder on the Beach, 273 Pineapple Grove Way, Delray Beach, 561-279-7790, murderonthebeach.com; at 10:30 a.m. Jan. 31 at the Doreen Gauthier Lighthouse Point Library, 2200 NE 38th St., Lighthouse Point, 954-946-6398; at 6 p.m. Feb. 6 at the Florida Center for the Book, Main Library, 100 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale, rsvp to 954-357-7386.

Roundup of January book and literary events »

Oline H. Cogdill can be reached at olinecog@aol.com.

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