The Other Side of Everything
By Lauren Doyle Owens
Touchstone. 272 pp. $25

Reviewed by Oline H. Cogdill

A South Florida neighborhood — and three seemingly unconnected residents — reel from the murder of an elderly woman in Fort Lauderdale in  author Lauren Doyle Owens' engrossing debut.

The Other Side of Everything works well as a look at generational concerns, at a once-vital neighborhood on the decline, and at the far-reaching results of gossip and a festering hatred.

The neighborhood's changes work as a metaphor for the different stages of life — youth, middle age, and old age. The Other Side of Everything forcefully illustrates that actions are usually tinged with shades of grey. Owens perfectly captures the atmosphere and feeling of South Florida, especially Broward County, despite setting her novel in the fictional town of Seven Springs,  described as lying in the "dense suburban sprawl between Fort Lauderdale and Miami."

Adel had lived in the neighborhood so long the newer residents didn't even know her last name. She lived there when the neighbors had frequent parties, the houses "vibrant, filled with a sort of 1960s-era optimism." Now, the houses "hung heavy with regret," illustrating the area's "failed promise." It seems inconceivable that Adel would be murdered, especially in the middle of the day.

Cancer survivor and artist Amy Unger lived behind Adel, and she becomes obsessed with the murder. Newly separated from her husband, Amy finds her artistic nature reignited as she tries to capture on canvas what happened. The murder makes the now-curmudgeonly widower Bernard White remember his time as a young father and an affair that almost ended his marriage. When other elderly women are murdered, Bernard and a few of the other men suggest the single retirees start a buddy system and live together, at least for a while, for safety.

Just 15 years old, Maddie Lowe supports herself as a waitress and tries to be strong for her younger brother, as her mother has abandoned the family and her father is increasingly distant.

Each character's reactions to the murders, as well as how the invasion of violence galvanizes the neighborhood, provides for a solid plot. Each realizes a strength, as well as a vulnerability, that they didn't know they had. Owens delivers a quiet mystery in The Other Side of Everything that expertly uncovers the emotional depth of each character. It's a terrific debut.

This review originally appeared in the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Sun Sentinel.