Chosen by Publishers Weekly as one of the six best mysteries of 2006, Impulse involves the reader in two mysteries, one recent, and one from twenty-five years earlier. Frank Meredith Smith, returning to Scott Academy, his Baltimore boarding school, for his fiftieth reunion, has been under suspicion at his Arizona home for four years, ever since his wife Sandy disappeared without a trace. The author of mystery stories and of a successful TV series, Frank has mixed feelings about this reunion. A "Campus Kid," whose father was a well-loved English teacher at Scott, Frank loved the freedom of exploring the 900-acre campus, but he also suffered the loss of his older brother Jack as a direct result of an incident at Scott.
His return to campus is greeted enthusiastically by Brad Stark, Director of Development, who is hoping that he will persuade Frank to make a considerable donation to the school. To keep Frank interested in the school, Stark persuades Frank to investigate and possibly write about the disappearance of four twelve-year-olds who had been part of the 25th reunion class.
The action cuts from scene to scene, sometimes without transitions, as the author presents characters in action. The reader must often fill in the blanks regarding when, where, and who is involved in some of these short scenes, but eventually all connect to the central mysteries. While Frank is in Baltimore, police detectives in Arizona unearth new information about his wife's death. In a conversation with Frank, his daughter Barbara betrays her own uncertainty about her father's role in her mother's disappearance. In the meantime, Rosemary Mitchell, an old friend and fellow "Campus Kid," becomes Frank's assistant investigating the disappearances of the four young boys--or was it five?
The novel is beautifully paced, with both mysteries unfolding simultaneously and keeping the reader constantly involved with the action. Frank is a sympathetic main character, and his daughter Barbara's questions about her mother's death and her father's possible role in it are natural and understandable. Rosemary Mitchell, as Frank's 66-year-old companion, is realistic, not at all Miss Marple-ish, and the complications of the 25-year-old case provide plausible twists regarding the disappearances of the four young boys. Though the writing is not always smooth and the use of transitions between some of the scenes might make the action a bit easier to follow, the mysteries and their resolutions are top-notch. n Mary Whipple