Fascination Parlor: Alan Lewis
A wooden table that is about 1.3 meters long and 50 centimeters wide and one meter high. How could this simple structure create such a stir? Imagine sitting on a stool at one end of the table and hoping to win a special prize of your choice. At the opposite side of where players sit is a table consisting of 25 holes. The holes are arranged in a five by five square matrix. The goal is for the player to roll a rubber ball toward the holes. The ball as is smaller than the holes are you would observe if you watch the video, which illustrates how the game is played. The ball falls through one of the holes an d light goes on in the backboard and the ball is returned to the player to repeat this action several more times until a lucky winner gets five holes lit up in a pattern that might be straight across, diagonal, up and down just like bingo with a free space in the middle. Fascination is a fun game and the player that gets a complete row of five is declared the winner and locks out everyone else. Imagine a game that costs 10 or 20 cents to play and winning coupons towards a prize of your choice. Depending of which row you light up will depend on how many coupons you win. Many people today and often some say they resemble that of playing skee balls but not quite the same way frequent fascination Parlors.
Fascinated: a really interesting word: Throughout the novel Fascination Parlor by debut author Alan Lewis you will learn many different definitions of this word. What would attract and hold a person so attentively that they seemed to be so captivated by the person, a special quality or enthralled, irresistibly drawn to this person or an event that they block out everything else around them? It’s almost as if the person is spellbound or is drawn to the face, mannerisms or speech of this person that holds their attention captive. The Fascination Parlor is a complex novel that recreates an unsolved murder that took place in Onset in 1946. A young USO hostess joins her friends for an early dinner, has a few dances at a dance hall and disappears. Ruth is 23 and works at a Cambridge five and dime and is engaged. Being a hostess at these dances she often meets young military men and visits others at hospitals. Modest, well bred what would make her take a different turn and leave with a stranger and wind up compromising herself. Wareham Road is the scene that the author describes as the next time we meet or see this young girl is when she is being fished out of the bog where someone has left her body. Ruth McCrory was killed but how and by whom left the small town of Wareham and those living in Onset in fear of who might be next.
The story continues as we meet our narrator Winnie King as she and her husband criminal defense attorney Matthew King arrive at Onset for the Decoration Weekend. Opening up their home and getting ready for the weekend’s events takes time and energy as the author allows us to get to know both Winnie and Matthew. Telling readers about their pasts, their interests and backgrounds we learn much about them, Onset and the beauty of the small town. But, Matthew remains only look enough to open up the house as Winnie remains and finds herself in front of the Fascination Parlor where our story begins and takes an interesting turn.
Two women, strangers are sitting at separate tables, their eyes on the prize they want hoping to shout Winner if they get five lights lit up in a row on the fascination board. Irma Pruitt and Winnie King’s lives intersect for a short time and then a chance encounter in a restaurant brings them even closer. Getting to know Irma was something Winnie really enjoyed and although she did not win the prize the friendship at first meant more.
A strange gas explosion rocked the small town of Onset and Winnie being curious could not resist finding out more. Bonding with several other women they formed a gossip, lunch, maj jong group that met to talk about their lives, husbands and anything in the news. Leora Swartz, Thelma Rabinowitz, Winnie and Chloe Barron rounded out this foursome.
There is much turbulence within this novel as we learn more about Winnie’s family, her two daughters and the uncomfortable situations that arise when they arrive in Onset. But, the gas explosion takes center stage as Winnie could not resist finding out more, learning what happened and becoming more involved. This is just the prelude to what happens next as that Saturday night, Irma Pruitt’s son would seek out a young girl and what happens next would rock the world of everyone in this town, many families and change the dynamics of Winnie and Matthew’s marriage. Listening to the radio Winnie and her three friends learned more about the missing girl, her death and the search for her killer. Imagine stopping by Wareham Road a man spotted a patch of pink fabric floating in the reservoir. Ruth McCrory’s body was found floating face down and her killer was very much at large. The news broadcast that someone said the killer’s name was Frank. As the conversation among her group goes to Irma as Winnie shares her encounters, gets the biased viewpoints of these other women and we learn much about their single minded attitudes, their prejudices and their thoughts concerning those they consider townies and people that they feel are beneath them. Added in there was something about a mysterious girl that was seen with this suspect who disappeared.
Winnie is our narrator and the rest of the story is told through her eyes as she shares her encounter with Irma at the Fascination Parlor and learns that her son, Jim was taken into custody by the police as a suspect in a rape of a young girl. Questioning Irma, brings to light information about her son, her family and the fact that she needs help as Winnie ponders all the reasons why Matthew is the right person to defend him while flashing back to his career and a case that made the news and changed his perspective when dealing capital punishment cases. So, why did he decide to take this one and how would he proceed? Fascinated: Winnie was transfixed with the case, enjoyed the hype, being part of it from the start and hoping Matthew would get involved. Winnie tells the story in her own words about this rape/trial murder that rocked this New England town. Based on real events Winnie King as the defense attorney’s wife and friends with the mother of the defendant takes on many different viewpoints, relates what she thinks about the evidence presented in the case and has strong feelings about the truth but never shares them.
As the newspapers voiced their take on the murder the airwaves, were filled with reports, speculations, and the fact that noted criminal attorney Matthew King had shown up in Plymouth demanding to see his client: Jim Pruitt. After many weeks of seeking evidence, presenting testimony to the grand jury and getting Jim things started to heat up. Beatrice Wallace was the girl they claimed he raped but did he?
The hands of justice move in many different ways as the evidence is collected the attorneys are getting prepared and the parties are ready to begin their case. The author creatively weaves many different plots and subplots as the strain of the upcoming trial ways heavily on Winnie and her marriage. Deciding to take a back step Matthew encourages the Pruitts to hire the best and most expensive defense attorney: Herbert Callahan to go up against the District Attorney named Dewing. Taking readers inside the courtroom, hearing the thoughts, inner most conflicts and hopes of those involved as Matthew and the legal defense team become entranced, enthralled and definitely fascinated with the case, the defendant and seek many different creative ways to get an aquittal. With jury selection completed the work now begins as the author presents the prosecutions opening statement and here is where things begin to change. As you listen to the testimony of the medical examiner, the police detectives, the witnesses, the young lady claiming he raped her, the inference that there was a missing girl that cannot be found and might exonerate him, you the reader must decide innocent or guilty from the evidence presented. The defense attorney is astute, underhanded you might say and manages to discredit just about all of the prosecutions witnesses by proving that not everything you remember is true, that memories are often faulty and that no one can prove within a shadow of doubt or reasonable doubt that Ruth was strangled, murdered, raped or why she died. A phone call received from an anonymous caller would bring some hope to the defense. Was there really a mystery call? Who was she and why didn’t she ever come forward? Newspapers had a field day and publications soared as the trial started and the headlines said it all. Photographs of all the players, the defendant created by sketch artists filled many pages as the case was brought to life for the public. All male jury, the opening statement of DA Edmund Dewing about to begin and the trial you might say decade or century was off to an interesting start. This fast paced murder mystery keeps readers on the edge as the prosecution takes the lead and the defense defuses his case every step of the way. Points one on both sides yet the hands of justice seem tipped in one direction. Each witness questioned, each one made to rethink what they saw, heard or even witnessed as you enter the courtroom of Judge Goldberg, hear the testimony first hand and decide if Ruth left the Colonial Casino with Jim, got into his car, refused his advances and wound up in the bog. You decide: Was she in his car? Did he kill her? Strands of hair were found and they matched hers? Murder in the first degree or innocent? Reasonable doubt: Was it proved that she was strangled or murdered? Were her friends telling the truth? When did he really get home? Did he really come home and talk with his mother? Truths, lies, betrayals, deceits and when you hear the voice of the defendant, visualize his expressions will you the reader find for the defense or prosecution? A verdict that set the town on fire and the end result ill surprise you as Winnie King reflects on what she wishes she had shared many years later. Was Jim Pruitt guilty or innocent? Was everyone so fascinated with the case and enthralled with the illusion of him painted by the defense that no one saw the real him? Fascination Parlor: A game of chance: Is murder?
Fran Lewis: Reviewer