Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel
Maureen Spanos’s engrossing debut novel Rainey Days is equal parts suspense and family drama. Spanos has skillfully intertwined the two genres to create an honest and exciting narrative. The action takes place on the eastern end of Long Island, and there are rich details about the suburban and rural areas that create a vivid backdrop.
At the book’s center is Lorraine Mancini, a young woman just beginning to recover from caring for her terminally ill mother. At the outset, Lorraine is a melding of hope and resignation. As she begins to settle into some sense of normalcy, her half-brother Troy is released from prison and invades her life.
Troy’s presence has always been a negative force, and incarceration has made him both bitter and dangerous. Now, he has concocted a murder and kidnapping scheme based on a chance encounter at a service station. Once set in motion, he recruits Mac, a former prison mate, to facilitate the latter part of the crime. Troy forces Lorraine into taking part: he charges her with looking after the kidnapped boy, Teddy, taken from his grandparents, Miriam and George.
What ensues is a brisk and original thriller as negotiations are made, and partners in crime double-cross. In the center is Lorraine’s commitment to protecting Teddy. Lorraine and Teddy quickly bond, and it is her growing love for the boy that keeps him safe. She goes from unwilling captor to brave keeper, finding strength she never knew she had.
Spanos is a strong developer of character. Lorraine begins as someone more acted upon than acting. She seems almost sidelined in her own story, waiting for life to begin. Forced into an untenable situation, she finds resources and a sense of self. Through adversity, she becomes a whole person.
Troy is volatile and unpredictable, cruel and violent, with a terrible past carefully revealed. Only capable of looking as far as the next scam, he is ruthlessly incapable of seeing beyond his own needs, a mercurial man-child resenting anything and everyone. And yet, Spanos draws him so that while he is reprehensible, he is also human. If Troy is bad, Mac is the embodiment of unflinching evil, an immoral sociopath. He is a fascinating monster whose malevolence infuses the story with further tension.
Miriam and George, Teddy’s grandparents and now guardians, are a study in contrast. Miriam is the mother and caretaker of all in her radius. Even in deep pain from her son’s death, she struggles to maintain control of the world for Teddy’s sake; George remains self-absorbed.
While Miriam attempts to clean-up after the mourners have left, George is demanding the television remote to watch his program. This intriguing exchange tells us so much about them and their marriage. It is one of many subtle and insightful glimpses throughout the novel.
Among the many characters, there is also a nosy neighbor and a big-hearted waitress. Both could easily fall into caricature, but Spanos wisely avoids these pitfalls by giving them honesty and dimension. Even with these secondary characters, she imbues them with detail and motivation.
Best of all, Spanos allows the characters to grow from both their experiences and interactions. Often thrillers are populated by one-emotion characters; the ending is about the resolution of the crime. Rainey Days goes beyond this, allowing the book’s inhabitants to mature and transform. The book’s final section delves into family history, engulfing all involved, an additional and intriguing layer to an already satisfying adventure.
As a debut novel, Rainey Days is first-rate. Even better, it is a harbinger of strong works to come.
Author Maureen Spanos is a long-time resident of Port Jefferson, having located here while studying at Stony Brook University in 1969. She retired from Comsewogue School District where she taught elementary school from 1971 to 2004. She holds Masters Degrees in Education from Southampton College and in Arts Administration from Goucher College. The family maintains a second home on an island in Greece which has provided the background for a second novel that is currently in the works for later this year.
Rainey Days is available on Amazon in both paper and ebook formats.