BOOK REVIEW: ‘Reunion at Red Paint Bay’: Solid Family Man Simon Howe Haunted, Threatened by Past Events

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
BOOK REVIEW: 'Reunion at Red Paint Bay': Solid Family Man Simon Howe Haunted, Threatened by Past Events

 In George Harrar’s novel “Reunion at Red Paint Bay” (Other Press, 288 pages, $14.95 paperback original) small town newspaper publisher Simon Howe’s seemingly settled life comes crashing down when he starts getting anonymous postcards from various cities with increasingly menacing messages. The messages apparently refer to an incident involving a female high school classmate of Howe’s at the end of their senior year.


This stalking by mail  — frightening  enough to Simon, his wife Amelia, known to everybody as Amy, and their son Davey — soon escalates to threats from a real person, Paul Chambers Walker, arriving in Red Paint on the eve of Simon’s 25th high school class reunion. Walker met and fell in love with Howe’s classmate, Jean Crane.  The Howe family becomes engaged in a full-scale psychological battle with their unidentified stalker — without even knowing it.

Secrets from Simon’s past are uncovered, escalating toward a tense and unexpected climax.     Red Paint calls itself “the friendliest town in Maine,” a “Cheers” tavern of a place where everyone knows one another and nothing too disturbing ever happens.   Because there’s rarely any real news, Simon runs stories about Virgin Mary sightings, high school reunions, and petty criminals.    In this excerpt from the novel, Simon’s psychiatrist wife Amy displays her judgmental side as she questions his hiring an ex-con, a convicted rapist, for production work at the newspaper:

 “You hired a rapist?”

The description seemed so all-encompassing, as if a single word could sum up a man’s whole nature rather than just one awful act. Didn’t a person deserve at least a few sentences about his life before judging him?
    “I assume he didn’t put that on his résumé,” Amy said.

“He had a record, not a résumé.”

She glanced out the window, then back at him. “You didn’t tell me you were thinking of hiring a rapist.”
“I didn’t know I was. I just went up there to check out the new incentives the state has for hiring prisoners when they’re released. I ended up doing some interviews.”

“And hiring a rapist.”
“As it turned out.”
“There weren’t any pedophiles or murderers available?”

Simon braked hard at Five Corners, even though normally he would take his chances coasting through on the yellow to avoid waiting through the multiple lights. “I sense you don’t approve.”

“I’m just wondering why you would hire a rapist.”

Rapist—how many times would she say it? “This guy has a name, which is David Rigero, and David scored higher than most of our regular applicants on the employment test. I liked him, too.”

“Liked him how?”
“As someone to talk to. If I were sitting next to him on an airplane, I’d enjoy our conversation.” […]

The traffic crept by in front of them—a few cars, a gasoline tanker, and a white unmarked truck, the kind often mentioned on crime reports as spotted leaving the scene. Should the people inside these vehicles all be judged by the worst thing they had ever done? Who could survive that scrutiny?

 * * *

I enjoyed Harrar’s 2003 literary mystery “The Spinning Man”,  which also examines a middle class man,  a college professor, accused of a crime, but “Reunion at Red Paint Bay” elevates matters of guilt and innocence to a more complex level. More than a conventional mystery or thriller, “Reunion at Red Paint Bay” lays bare  the consequences of guilt, denial, and moral absolutism. The novel can be read on several levels, but it devolves into a book tailored to spur readers into examining the limits of responsibility for one’s actions. 
About the Author

George Harrar is the author of two novels for adults, including the literary mystery “The Spinning Man”. Among his dozen published short stories, “The 5:22” won the prestigious Carson McCullers Prize and was selected for The Best American Short Stories 1999. Harrar lives west of Boston with his wife, Linda, a documentary filmmaker. Their son, Tony, was the inspiration for Harrar’s award-winning novel for middle-grade readers titled Parents Wanted, published by Milkweed Editions. Publisher’s website:


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