Hazel’s grandfather, Isaac Severy, is dead. His suicide leaves a hole in an already struggling family.
The family he leaves behind is large in number, but small in commonalities. With the one person who seemingly bonded them together now dead, it’s awkward at best when they come together to mourn him.
Our main character, Hazel, is on the downslope of a steep downward spiral. She owns a bookstore on the verge of going out of business. Having been evicted from her home, she surreptitiously sleeps in the back of the store.
When Hazel’s grandfather dies, ostensibly by suicide, she meets with the family to mourn and attend the funeral. She finds a letter from her grandfather that acts as a siren’s call to leave behind her failed life and follow the clues.
During his lifetime, Isaac was a brilliant mathematician. His son, Phillip, tries to live up to his father’s academic legacy with some success, but the rest of the family is mired in aggressive mediocrity, if not downright failure. They represent a Tennessee Williams-esque depiction of a dysfunctional family, not unlike families of The Nest or Dead Letters, seething with barely-contained contempt.
These family members aren’t bonded by love. They’re bonded by trauma and failure and resentment. Hazel can’t trust anyone with the secret Isaac has left her.
The last equation of Isaac Severy offers a nice mix of murder, intrigue, and wistfulness.
The one thing that seems to be missing is the thrill of the hunt.
A posthumous plea for answers should present a compelling, life-changing adventure, such as that in Douglas Preston’s exhilarating The Codex.
I keep imagining the gleeful giggle Ron Swanson emits in Parks and Recreation when he’s embroiled in a scavenger hunt and chasing after clues.
Or think of the melancholy and growing desperation that pulls Michael Douglas’s character deeper and deeper in The Game. As he plays, it exposes his own failures and fractured family in his seemingly grand life.
Somehow, Isaac Severy’s hunt is a bit more subdued, the payoff not quite as exciting. Almost bittersweet. Perhaps this is by design.
Not every puzzle ends with a whiz-bang. Sometimes it just fizzles. But boy, is it fun to play with the pieces.