Wow! Y’all know that I seriously have to love a book to come out of retirement to write a review. It is another superb recommendation from retired librarian extraordinaire Susan Chatfield Griswold. The Shadow Box by Luanne Rice is a wonderful affirmation of the strength of domestic violence survivors. The story is familiar. Griffin Chase is a state’s attorney with his eye on the governor’s mansion in Connecticut. He’s handsome, wealthy, charming, and has a long history of abusing women with impunity. He’s had a life steeped in white privilege and is surrounded by enablers determined to shield him for their own gain and to conspire with him to eliminate people who might be hurdles in his career path. Been there.
He studies the cases he prosecutes. He tells me what the husbands did wrong and that he would never make those mistakes. Griffin convicts violent offenders. He sends the abusers, the batterers, the stalkers, and the murderers to prison, and then comes home for dinner and tells me they are his teachers. . .Terrifying me would give him pleasure.
On the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, his wife Claire Beaudry Chase introduces Fingerbone at a gallery opening. The shadow box commemorates the night Claire discovered her friend Ellen’s dead body near a pile of rocks on Hubbard’s Point beach while on a date with Griffin. Claire’s latest creation artfully conveys a message to Griffin that she knows he killed Ellen.
Griffin is the only person who knows why Claire didn’t attend the opening.
When will I be missed? I have until they first notice I am gone to get where I need to go. My whole body is shaking. Will I make it? What if the police find me first? They belong to Griffin. My husband rules law enforcement in Connecticut. He was already a man of power, and the backing he has for his run for governor gives him even more. The secret I keep could ruin his career. And once it gets out, his campaign will end, and the men who support him will be furious.
Claire has learned to walk on eggshells. She knows Griffin is about to explode when the pupils of his green eyes enlarge to the point that his eyes look black. But, he’s wearing a mask when he beats her in the garage and hangs her from the rafters:
I told myself I was not “the abused woman type” ~ as if there were such a thing. I was strong, could take care of myself, and I could handle anyone’s pain and carry it for them. But abuse, though it can seem to happen all at once, is cumulative. I was like a lobster in a pot of cold water, the temperature being raised bit by bit before I realized I was in danger. Every apology I made to Griffin chipped away at my soul, brought me closer to being boiled alive, because I gave up a little more of myself. And a little more. And a little more.
The rafter breaks. Claire escapes. A boat explodes. Decorator Sallie Benson is killed. Her husband Dan manages to swim to a buoy, and their children Gwen and Charlie are swept into the water on the boat’s dinghy. By the time the Coast Guard rescues Dan and Gwen, Charlie is gone.
What happened to Claire? Was Sallie’s death an accident or a targeted hit? Speculation in the press is rampant. Claire doesn’t know who she can trust. Are the police in Griffin’s pocket? She follows the stories in the press and notices that “Fenwick388” seems to have her pulse on the truth. Claire takes the enormous risk of reaching out and discovers Fenwick 388 is Spencer Graham Fenwick, who knows why Griffin killed Ellen. Spencer is an attorney who helps women escape abusive relationships via her foundation:
“I never call them ‘victims,'” Spencer said. “They are so strong. They have gone through hell ~ a hell they entered out of pure love. Abusers are weak. They trap women who have gigantic hearts, who want to help these poor, sad wounded birds.”
“That’s what I think too,” Claire said, nodding. “I’ve always believed we have big shoulders.”
“Absolutely. The abusers know that, and they take pleasure in breaking their partners down. It’s part of their fun. Plus, they get all that love, all that attention.”
The Shadow Box’s plot lines take many twists and turns, and I didn’t seem many of them coming. If you opt to read the book, I highly recommend keeping a list of characters handy because keeping up with how they intersect is confusing. Ms. Rice supports Safe Futures in southeastern Connecticut, and I loved how she wrapped up the book:
I closed my eyes, thinking of the sisterhood: all of us who had been affected by Griffin’s violence. . .Justice was its own art, shining light into the shadows, complex yet ultimately as simple as can be: bringing balance, making things right. Helping women know that their experience, no matter how horrific, was their strength. It showed them that they were their own superheroes.
Yes, I’m sucker for a happy ending even when it is improbable. Maybe I’m just happy that the judge is finally dead. It took Karma 30 years to dispense the justice too many survivors are denied in a court of law.