This is a novel destined to be erroneously shelved as a mystery because there's a murder in the first few pages. But that's only a device to set in motion a series of events in the life of 57-year-old Stuart Jordan, otherwise known as "Doc," an obstetrician who's also the medical examiner in Hubbard County, North Carolina. Doc exists in a kind of emotional limbo. His manic depressive wife Annabel is given to disappearing for long stretches of time, reappearing just as he is beginning to think about moving on with his life, which was shattered when their son died in an accident years before. Called to a murder scene where a silent woman sits nursing her baby amidst the blood and gore, Doc makes a promise to the accused woman that results in his taking temporary custody of the infant, against the wishes of her paternal family, a clan of petty thugs and criminals who nonetheless want the dead man's daughter. Doc is also embroiled in another emotional storm: his mistress, the D.A. who will be prosecuting the baby's mother for murder, is pressuring him to divorce Annabel, despite the fact that she's still married herself.
Much of the novel's ruminations involve Doc coming to terms with his guilt about his son's death, which is stimulated by the presence of the baby he's agreed to foster and with his realization that he can no longer protect Annabel from her own guilt about Will's death or rescue her from the ravages of mental illness. The choice is Doc's to make between the claims of the past and the promises of the future. The way in which Doc makes the choice reveals author Michael White as a writer of uncommon psychological acuity. The Blue Ridge Mountains locale gives White a chance to show off his considerable skills at describing the terrain and landscape, emotional as well as geographical, of this rarely imagined region of the country, and his insights into the poverty-scarred lives of many of its inhabitants are penetrating rather than patronizing. Minor char