Alarming Developments: An Absorbing Novel, Gracefully Written, About Sex and Suspicion

l young stephen amidon 0 Alarming Developments: An Absorbing Novel, Gracefully Written, About Sex and SuspicionSecurity
By Stephen Amidon
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 276 pages, $25

Stoneleigh is the “nuclear-free, dolphin safe” New England town where Edward Inman outfits the homes of skittish yuppies with motion sensors, panic rooms and CCTV. Doyle Cutler is one of his clients—a wealthy man with a seedy mien, an aversion to shaking hands and a recessive chin (always a bad sign.) These men, respectively, are hero and villain of Stephen Amidon’s new novel, Security. The book is part campus tale, part mystery, part police procedural. The proportions are well mixed.

Stoneleigh’s customary tranquility is stirred when Mary Steckl, a local college student, accuses Doyle Cutler of sexually assaulting her. Cutler rebounds with an accusation that Mary’s father, a drunk with a criminal record, is the real perp. The town is divided. Inman, with his insider’s knowledge of the Cutler property, suspects that the recluse has some freaky-deaky secrets. At the center of the crime is a sullen teenage boy with untoward connections to both Cutler and Inman. Naturally, it’s not easy getting the kid to talk.

For all its plot twists, Security is a book stitched of sensible prose. There are no flourishes, no embroidery. This doesn’t mean Mr. Amidon’s sentences are dull—descriptions of sweat as “nerve juice” and stray Rice Krispies as “pale rat droppings” are nuggets that stick with a reader. For the most part, Mr. Amidon’s intentions are clear: to write a properly absorbing novel in simple, crafted sentences that do not call attention to themselves. It’s neither a pretentious nor a modest ambition, and Mr. Amidon pulls it off with a never-ending supply of graceful observations. Reading Security is a bit like waking up at 4 in the morning and surveying familiar bedroom objects in—literally—a new light. Everything looks strange, and you’re not certain why.

Which is fitting. Security is a novel about perception in all its variants: the differences in legal perception that confuse victim with criminal; the paranoia that leads people to outfit their country homes with museum-level security systems; the flawed hunches that spur family members to turn against each other. If the characters in Security have one thing in common, it’s that they’re vitally misunderstood by their children or spouses or neighbors (or all of the above).

Security is that peculiar breed of novel that reads quickly but requires close attention. The reader finds herself pulling back the reins, reminding herself to savor what goes down smoothly. The book is funny, too; wryly and intermittently in the way that life admits humor. “She wasn’t too familiar with this part of town,” Mr. Amidon writes of a middle-aged woman. “There was no reason for her to be, unless she wanted to take a hike that wound up with her being rescued three days later by men who would wrap her in tinfoil and feed her weak tea.” More than anything, Security evokes the peculiar (and occasionally sinister) intimacy of a small town where citizens are quick to surmise the worst of their fellows and slow to exonerate them. Good fences may make good neighbors, but bad neighbors make better novels.

Molly Young is a writer living in New York. She can be reached at books@observer.com.