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Onyx reviews: Cuba by Stephen Coonts

Gordie Raglan is murdered on a small island off the Maine coast. The unthinkably violent crime brings a family back together to deal with their past.

Raglan was a World War II hero who raised three children with an iron fist after his wife absconded to Brazil with another man. Elder son Nemo is the only one of his generation to escape claustrophobic Burnley Island. His younger brother Bruno still lives there and their sister Brooke—who Nemo describes as an unkempt beauty—shared the oddly designed family home with their father.

The killing took place in the smokehouse on the family property. In this tiny building, Raglan used to mete out the worst of his parental punishments. It's also where the children played the Dark Game, a diversion so fearsome it could only be played in the hour before dark. To go later, to tarry into the night, was to tempt stronger forces than anyone was meant to confront.

Their father's murder baffles local and off-island authorities. This wasn't a casual killing; it was a crime of passion. Raglan was slashed and dismembered, mostly while he was still alive. Blood splatters the inside of the smokehouse like crimson paint. Forensic evidence is conspicuous by its absence. There is absolutely nothing for the police to go on. They are anxious to lump it in with the crimes of a serial killer operating on the mainland.

Brooke, who discovered her father's murder, has been undergoing emotional problems of late. She's been seen wandering naked around the grounds. Paintings depicting the trio as children and the crime scene are found in her gallery, clearly her work although she claims she didn't paint them.

The three surviving Raglans rediscover each other during this ordeal. Nemo especially has been estranged from the others and from the island that was his home. Everyone in this snowbound town remembers his litany of youthful indiscretions but he doesn't know his own siblings very well.

To solve the mystery of their father's death—and to lift the mist surrounding a week of their childhood which none of them remembers—Nemo, Bruno and Brooke must unravel the secrets behind the Dark Game and rediscover their father.

Clegg teases his readers mercilessly in the beginning with hints and shades of events. What is the game? What happened to Nemo's father? What were the gruesome details of Raglan's murder? What is behind Nemo's nightmares? Why is Bruno so abrupt with Nemo? Is Brooke going mad?

It takes a while for Nemo—and the reader—to get to Burnley Island and find out everything that leads up to this tragedy. The proliferation of questions and problems sucks the reader along with a compulsive thirst for more details. When Clegg proffers some information, he simultaneously poses more problems, more questions.

Ultimately, Clegg deliberately leaves some ambiguity. Supernatural things have occurred—or have they? The Raglans are under emotional stress. They're drinking too much, taking sedatives, sleep deprived. Nemo Raglan, the reader's point-of-view character, has a predilection toward writing fantasy versions of his youthful reality. How reliable a narrator is he? So, the big questions are answered, but readers are left with others—did the greenhouse walls really breathe? Was there a phantom apparition? Is the Dark Game something more than childish imagination?

Really good suspense fiction doesn't fill in all the blanks.

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