|Cadence Moran, the narrator for parts of the book, is an amazing auto mechanic; the owner of the garage where she works saves his toughest jobs for her. What's amazing about her is that she's blind and diagnoses problems and fixes engines by sound and touch. Cadence was blinded in an auto accident that killed her niece. Cadence feels guilt over her niece's death but has managed to establish a stable, satisfying life with her career, family, and friends.
On the way home from work one evening, Cadence hears the cries of a neighbor, Mrs. Prentice, a retired schoolteacher. A car accelerates away, and Cadence narrowly avoids being struck.
The police determine that Mrs. Prentice was killed during a home invasion and robbery. Their only witness is Cadence, the victim's blind neighbor. Even though she has details of the scene obtained from sounds and scents, they don't take her account seriously. The perpetrators, however, do not know Cadence is blind and cannot identify them. When Cadence becomes the target of repeated attempts on her life and provides even more details, the police must rethink their initial reactions.
Cadence is a strong heroine who carries the story almost single-handedly. No other character is half as interesting or as vivid. Whenever the story line veers away from Cadence to the detectives or the bad guys, the plot loses energy. It doesn't help that the detectives are so unwilling to recognize that Cadence is a dependable witness. Sure, she's blind, but given her precise recital of events, her ability to understand what's going on through her other senses shouldn't be so hard to believe.
Writing a novel in first-person point-of-view with a blind narrator is no easy trick. The reader has to “see” the action through a narrator's eyes. The best aspect of The Fault Tree is that the author is so successful in this respect. The reader experiences Cadence's frustrations at being so reliant on her other senses, but there's never a problem envisioning what's going on. The point-of-view shifts to third-person for the sections not focusing on Cadence, but they are less compelling.
The Fault Tree is set in Tucson, Arizona. In an odd coincidence, I began reading it right after a two-day stay in that city. Even with only a visitor's superficial familiarity with the area, I found it easy to orient myself as the action moved from one location to another.
What keeps The Fault Tree from receiving a recommended rating is its slow pacing. The best mysteries grab the reader from the first page and don't let go until the end. The Fault Tree suffers a momentum problem. It begins spectacularly but soon settles into an unhurried tempo with occasional detours into matters mostly unrelated to the main story line such as Detective Dupree's problems with his teenaged daughter. The sections narrated by Cadence provide vitality that the others can't match.
Readers might want to check out The Fault Tree because of its unique heroine. Few other fictional blind characters have been so interesting or so capable.