An unsettling novel with an unsettled ending, Bradstreet Gate opens on the tenth anniversary of a murder committed on the Harvard campus. Robin Kirman then takes her characters back to their more innocent college days, before relationships got ever so complicated and before the murder occurred. She follows the budding careers of three unlikely friends—the beautiful Georgia, the insecure Charlie, and the awkward Alice. Overlaying their college lives, Kirman adds a master manipulator, Rufus Storrow, an undergraduate lecturer with a murky romanticized past.
The first half of the novel leads up to the mysterious murder, for which no one actually is arrested, although someone certainly is accused. The remainder of the novel follows Georgia, Charlie, and Alice as they individually take different paths toward adulthood and try to put their college years behind them. As I type these words, I realize the extreme tension of the narrative is missing from my prose. Believe me, Robin Kirman constructs a masterful tale of innocence and intrigue, writing page after page that will keep you guessing, and guessing, and guessing.
Who done it? And why? And who is hiding what? And why? Revelations lead to secrets lead to more revelations lead to more secrets. With each passing year, Kirman builds more and more intrigue, successfully puzzling the reader as well as the characters. Much of her success is due to her handling of those characterizations. The trio, apparently so diverse, is surprisingly dependent on one another. Whenever a problem arises, they turn immediately turn toward each other, even when they should run the other way. While reading Bradstreet Gate, I was repeatedly reminded of collegial angst, that dreadful combination of bravado and insecurity, that youthful haste to flee parental oversight along with the need to cling to something familiar and safe.
The Harvard of Georgia, Charlie, and Alice is quite different from my more sheltered college days. More drugs, more casual sex, more fear of the future. But the emotional pushes and pulls were still familiar, and I found myself fretting alongside the characters and often feeling their pain. Kirman has written a novel that is so much more than a mere murder mystery. Rather, it is a fascination incursion into the minds of young men and women just entering adulthood, stepping confidently forward, slipping backward, sometimes standing still. I liked the psychology of Bradstreet Gate. It’s believable, smart, and very, very real.
Rereading what I’ve just written, I realize that I not only haven’t caught the tension, but I also haven’t delved into the actual people involved. That’s because it is impossible to talk about them without revealing too much plot. Kirman’s layered construction resembles a set of blocks carefully stacked together. Remove one, and the whole story tumbles down. Instead of reading a review, you really need to read Bradstreet Gate itself, Robin Kirman’s very successful novel of anger and anguish, indiscretion, and intrigue. – Ann Ronald
Bradstreet Gate is Robin Kirman’s debut novel.
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