At forty-two years of age, Kate still lives with her father because she’s never completely recovered from the effects of witnessing a murder and being raped when she was twenty. Lately, she’s feeling trapped by her father’s overly protective attitude, and she’s ready to have a life of her own. Her sense of urgency in that regard increases dramatically when the man who’s spent the past two decades in jail based on her eyewitness testimony is exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence.
Lay Death at Her Door is classified by the publisher as a mystery, but it’s not a classic mystery in the sense of the protagonist solving a crime. I wouldn’t call it a thriller either, although it has some aspects of that genre. I’m not sure an accurate classification is possible. At its core, this is the story of a woman’s obsession and of its power to destroy her life. The story is told by Kate almost as a memoir of how she came to be in her current situation. Buhmann does a superb job of letting Kate peel away layer after layer of the façade she’s spent her lifetime creating. We see the dominance of her ego in things she says, almost as asides, from time to time. The secrecy in which she is shrouded becomes more pronounced as she further isolates herself from the few people who are part of her life, while simultaneously using them to satisfy her obsession. We feel these things just as those people do. Although Kate is an unlikeable character, it’s hard to not feel some sympathy for her. The other characters seem weak or despicable in their own right, but we only see them through Kate’s eyes, just as we see her only through her own eyes. In Kate, Buhmann has created a classic unreliable narrator.
Purely from a plot perspective, the story will hold your interest. The “climactic” scene is telegraphed, possibly intentionally, but is only a precursor to the true climax. The last twenty pages of the book have more twists than a bag of pretzels. The true appeal of the book, though, is in witnessing the disintegration of an obsessive personality…like the train wreck you can’t help but watch. In that regard, Buhmann’s storytelling is in a class with Lolita.
Reading Lay Death at Her Door is like sitting raptly across the table from Kate while she relates her tale of woe and realizing when she finishes, that you've scooted your chair as far from the table as you can get it.