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by Catherine Gildiner

Admirers of Catherine Gildiner’s first book, the memoir Too Close to the Falls, will probably smile as they read the opening sentence of her first novel, Seduction. “It’s real embarrassing to admit, but I forget why I killed my husband,” Gildiner’s narrator Kate Fitzgerald begins, making the reader think: yes, this is going to be fun.

Gildiner’s first book, a marvellous account of her eccentric girlhood in Lewiston, New York, is full of such funny incongruities. It also teems with carefully chosen details, such as her description of the town near the bottom of Niagara Falls where the seemingly calm river has whirlpools “which can suck anything into their vortices in seconds.”

But Seduction is a plot-driven, idea-laden 480-page mystery, overflowing with long expositions of psychoanalytic theory. It will be a disappointment to many of Gildiner’s fans, although people who like elaborate plots with multiple murders set against a background of intellectual rumination may find it interesting.

While in jail for the murder of her husband, Kate Fitzgerald has become an expert on both Freud and Darwin, and her shrink wants her to work with another ex-con to find out what nasty stuff a well-known Freudian has discovered about the great man. People have been threatened with death, libel cases have been set in motion, Freud’s daughter Anna is involved, and things are not at all what they seem.

Fitzgerald is reluctant to take the assignment, but she knows that if she doesn’t, her psychiatrist will advise against granting her parole. The case leads her to several places in Europe and North America, and eventually to an understanding of herself as well as insight into why Anna Freud never married and the intellectual debt Freud owed to Darwin.

Gildiner says in a preface that Darwin and Freud became real people for her when she spent years studying their work for her PhD. The extent of her knowledge is apparent throughout this novel. It’s too bad her characters lack the same depth.