September Read of the Month: “The Smuggler’s Daughter,” by Claire Hamner Matturro

Claire Hamner Matturro

Reviewed by Marina Brown

A really superb writer can gather all of the ravelings, the dozens of characters, the seemingly impossible happenstances of a novel and, in a few deftly written pages, offer us a revelatory and thoroughly satisfying denouement. And it’s not easy.

Claire Matturro has, in The Smuggler’s Daughter, accomplished all of those, and more. A story can be thrilling and mysterious, and keep us reading on, but if its writing is flat or colorless, we will put the book down. In her newest work, Matturro shows off her literary chops in descriptions that are at once gritty and ruthlessly descriptive of Florida’s Gulf Coast at various times and places while, at the same time, she shows us the interior struggles and ambivalence of character after character. And no one will put this book down.

The prologue introduces Kitty, later known as Kate. She is raised in the rough fishing village of Dolphin Cove, where her father is barely scraping by in the dying industry. Times are tough and people, just like now, do what they have to do to stay afloat. Not all of it is pretty or legal.

The years have zipped by, and we meet the mature Kate, now a librarian and the girlfriend of a local police detective. Ray is a gentle but burnt-out professional with an attenuated drinking problem and a propensity for losing out on love. Kate, too, seems to have gone through life with ambiguous feelings about enduring relationships, but now, needing to make a decision about Ray, she finds that her past and so much she had shuttered inside is about to explode.

Claire Matturro is a former attorney and her beloved brother is career law enforcement officer. From these two perspectives, Matturro draws insights and details that make this book seem as if we’ve long known these people and their practices, the nuances of the law, and even of an autopsy or the way a detective’s suspicious mind works. She’s not stingy describing the stark reality of life knee-deep in extra-legal behavior. Several attorneys, however rich, pay the price along the way. Those who cavalierly degrade the environment do, too. And Kate? Nobody’s hands are clean; it’s just a matter of what she’s willing to give up to keep hers “out of sight.”

For anyone who relishes the details of a book whose author has done her homework, who can tell you what highway leads to which fish joint, or how much a dead-body needs to be weighted to stay under, this no-holds-barred, tell-Florida-like-it-is tale is as rich as buttery lobster. Brilliantly drawn characters, totally believable dialogue, suspense until the very end: You’ll be glad you read The Smuggler’s Daughter, even if it gave you the shivers.

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