Friday, October 31, 2014

LEAVING TIME: Jodi Picoult Wraps Family, Grief, and Love in a Mystery, with Elephants

The teaser stories released ahead of the publication of Jodi Picoult's newest novel, LEAVING TIME, are small polished gems: "Where There's Smoke" enters the world of the has-been fortune teller Serenity Jones, who'll come to teen Jenna Metcalf's assistance in the novel; and "Larger Than Life" steps inside the scientific life of Jenna's missing (presumed dead) mom, Alice, in her work with elephants in Botswana. It's tempting to see the stories as exercises along the way to the overall "big book" -- character studies, where action reveals an interior landscape. I expect to read them over again, with as much pleasure.

LEAVING TIME is in many ways a traditional mystery: Jenna turns 13 and decides to hire the only private investigator she can afford, Virgil Stanhope, whose connection with Alice's disappearance a decade ago means he's easy to recruit to rescue the failed case. And Jenna struggles to believe her mom may still be alive somewhere, even though she can't believe her loving mother could have voluntarily left her at the family's elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire.

Picoult's active author tour and rich author website ( reveal much of the emotional ground of this novel: the love between elephants, which she explored herself in her research, and the time for letting go of her own teenage daughter to college. The book is sure to resonate with those who are already caught by those two themes -- it's a love story across generations and across species, written with her usual swift-paced storytelling. As a mystery, it has the scent of an early private investigator (PI) narrative, mingling with that incense of the mysteriously correct fortune teller tagging along on the case.

There's a major twist near the end of the book, which of course I won't reveal -- except to say that if you're looking for a traditional mystery that follows all the rules, you'll just have to loosen up and go with the flow on this one. And, heads up to you Picoult traditionalists, it's not a medicolegal thriller this time. It's a pleasure to read. But for re-reading, I'm going back to those two stunning stories. Better download them (at a token price) while they're still available, if you'd like the added insight into the craft of this bestselling author.

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