Jane Smiley’s Duplicate Keys is part of my summer of re-visiting previous reads.

I first picked this up and read it in March 1997 (astonishingly) and this is my third time of reading. I absolutely love this novel with a passion and will be hard-pushed to explain why but am going to have a pretty good stab at it.

Firs a quick trot through the basic story. Alice is part of a group who moved to New York in the late 1960s/early 1970s following their friends Craig and Denny hoping to make it in the music business and although things hadn’t turned out as planned they have settled there. We are now in the early 1980s and Alice visits the apartment of her friend Susan (away on a trip) to water the plants and make sure all is OK, and finds the two musicians shot dead. The novel tells the story of the impact of the murder on the group and, of course, is all about finding who the killer is.

So much so traditional thriller, but this really clicked with me:

  • I absolutely fell in love with the cover (I can be funny that way)
  • I really, really like Alice – she is ordinary but actually rather brave in her own way (I’ve tried to think over the years who might best play her in a  movie version of this but can’t think of anyone) – she is one of my absolutely favourite female characters
  • the initial impact of the murder on Alice is seen at a slight distance – we aren’t with her when she finds the bodies of her two friends but pick the story up as she talks to the investigating detective, and I liked that detachment at the start
  • the novel says a lot about the mindset of a certain 60’s type – trusting people who seemed like themselves to the extent of giving out keys to their apartment – to the point that Susan has trouble telling the police who might have been able to get in

This works really well as a thriller but is also a fascinating study of friendship and how it changes over time. The 80’s setting seems slightly historical now but of course this was a contemporary thriller and I wished I’d read it when it came out (it was published in 1984, the year I got married the first time).

This really is one of my favourite books.