Friends Like These

No one should want to be a part of the messy, self-centered group of college pals in Kimberly McCreight's shrewd, insightful fourth novel, Friends Like These--a look at the dark side of friendship.

Wealthy Jonathan Cheung and friends Stephanie Allen, Maeve Travis, Keith Lazard and Derrick Chism--all Vassar alumni--claim they are bonded by unconditional love, devoted to each other, willing to forgive any transgression. Instead, guilt, fear and secrets unite them. A decade ago in college, a young man fell off a roof while they were all drinking. Rather than call an ambulance or the police, they left him there, worried that this accident would taint their futures. Later, wracked with guilt, Keith's girlfriend died by suicide.

Now, they've all gathered for the weekend at Jonathan's Catskills mansion, but the real agenda is to force New York City gallery owner Keith into rehab. A car crash, after which one friend is dead and one is missing, brings in Detective Julia Scutt, whose sister's murder 20 years ago still has repercussions. Another unrelated death ramps up the action.

McCreight (A Good Marriage) swirls the plot with each friend's personality while building on the local residents' ongoing tensions with the wealthy weekenders, with intimidating contractors who are demanding payment that Jonathan's fiancé, Peter, has neglected, and mobsters whom Keith owes. Each plot point adds to the fractures in the group, as do the anonymous e-mails threatening to expose each person's secret, leading to the surprising denouement.

The group's carelessness with each other and with outsiders emphasize their chaotic lives in the engrossing Friends Like These. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer

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