My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Apple of My Eye (2014) by Mary Ellen Bramwell enthused me once again with the fun and childlike eagerness found in reading mysteries—much like when I first read The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew or Agatha Christie.
When the protagonist, Brea, falls in love with and later weds Paul Cass, the story is only just beginning when Paul is shot and killed in a robbery, leaving Brea with more questions and grief than she is comfortable with. But it is Bramwell’s handling of the characters and their emotions that allow you to become so easily invested in reading on:
“I wondered how anyone could be sleeping at a moment like this, but I knew their lives were not hanging on what was happening at the hospital a few miles away. They could not feel my anguish nor see the concern in my eyes. They would wake up in the morning as if nothing had happened and make their breakfasts and go to work or school or take care of their children as if the day were like any other. But it wouldn’t be, and I knew it, regardless of what greeted me ahead” (p 21).
Bramwell is apt to move you deeply when you least expect it with her ease of writing and storytelling. While the pages build into a story of romance and heartache that grip you by the collar and refuse to let you go with its raw prose—as if you’re reading the woman’s diary and confession—you will be drawn into Brea’s pain as she is dealing with a newborn son, Noah, and the death of her new husband:
“I remember there was a police officer who came and found me in the waiting room. Gently he led me to a quiet place. I’m fairly certain he gave me the official word that Paul had died in the ambulance on his way to the hospital, but since I already knew, what did the words matter. I do recall he used the word ‘hero,’ although it made no sense at the time. I believe he asked me some questions, but I don’t even know if I answered them or not. At some point, a friend of mine was called to come drive me home. Amy delivered me back to my place either in my car or hers, I couldn’t tell you which…
“Looking from every angle I could imagine, all I could see appeared gray and rough. I couldn’t sink my teeth into the tough hide of the reality of my life. I have never known such despair. My mind was blind to everything but my indescribable grief. It was bigger than my soul, and I felt it would crush me before morning.
“Surely if I just let the grief in, it would run throughout my body, and the elephant would win. I would fade away and die, be gone, feel nothing, but all I felt was crushing weight that would not kill me…
“And so the tears came, slowly trickling at first, and then in rushing torrents soaking my face and my pillow and our bed, a bed meant for two, now home to only one. I sobbed in great body shaking sobs that echoed throughout the hollow house. I cried for Noah, who would not long remember the father who bounced him on his knee, who tickled him, who kissed him and threw him in the air to the sound of baby giggles. I cried for Noah, and I cried for me” (p 23-25).
But is Paul the hero the town makes him out to be or is he something Brea never expected? And was his love for her ever real? Until all the pieces have fallen into place and the natural order of things have been restored, you might need to redefine your definition of heroism, of honor and of trust as Brea begins to ask herself the hard questions:
“Paul had admitted that his interest in me started because he couldn’t have me. I had always assumed that it continued because he got to know me. Was I simply the challenge at hand, the one to conquer? I hoped that wasn’t the case, but I couldn’t be sure, wasn’t sure of much anymore. If it was true that I was merely a trophy to be won, was there any emotion involved? I loved Paul fiercely, but what had I been to him?” (p 108)
There is, however, so much more than one woman’s quest to understand her love life and marriage. As she digs deeper into the robbery that led to Paul’s death, Brea discovers Paul had much more to do with the crime and other similar robberies across town. This leads her to speak with Detective Lentus and together the two embark on a life and death journey which will start to unravel the mystery behind Paul Cass and his evil genius.
But can a hero ever be completely good? Can a villain ever be partly a hero? Can a villain love deeply? Can a hero be a villain? And can either really ever love someone in the end?
“I spied a perfectly shaped apple just above my head,” Bramwell writes of Brea, “It was without blemish. Eagerly, I reached for it. Just before my fingers could touch the apple, it dropped from the tree into my waiting palm. I stared at the beautiful apple that had been placed in my hand. Slowly I lifted my eyes to the sky and whispered, ‘I love you, too’” (p 244).
Bramwell takes the reader for an emotional ride of turmoil and intrigue and she will not leave you dissatisfied. With the skill and intensity of an Agatha Christie novel, The Apple of My Eye is without question a fun read that won’t be afraid to ask the hard questions about love and loss, truth and deceit—all of which can be a mystery to even the noblest of people when they become blinded by death or by love, for both love and death are bound by the same powers that keep us honest in the end.
CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, and a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy). He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979 and now lives in Hong Kong.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father‘s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; Little Hometown, America: A Look Back; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
You can read more about the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 320,000+ followers