Fall from Grace, by Richard North Patterson, Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, NY, March 2012, 278 pages (hardcover, $26.00).

Chilmark is home base in Richard North Patterson’s newest novel, Fall from Grace. “I’ve long wanted to write a novel set on Martha’s Vineyard, my summer home for almost two decades now,” Mr. North Patterson writes in the book’s afterword.

The author of 19 bestselling and critically acclaimed novels, Mr. Patterson often takes his readers deep into politically-charged arenas including the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the Al Qaeda terrorist network. Compared to these violent locales, a story set in rich, rural, waterlogged Chilmark seems downright tame. Not so in the hands of Mr. Patterson.

The tension in Fall from Grace is not political but psychological. It is a skillfully plotted murder mystery ripe with twisted, painful family dynamics, as readable and rewarding as Mr. Patterson’s forays into more dangerous corners of the world. Here darkness resides in the heart of a brilliant, arrogant Island patriarch. Ben Blaine is a famous writer, voracious womanizer, son of a drunken Chilmark lobsterman, and father to two sons who rightfully detest him. Ben is found dead at the bottom of a cliff – accident, suicide, or murder?

Layer upon layer of hatred and betrayal are revealed as Adam Blaine investigates his father’s death. Adam had left the Island abruptly 10 years earlier, dropped out of law school, and joined the CIA. Back home for the funeral, he is named his father’s executor. It is a role that will, if faithfully fulfilled, disinherit his mother and brother. How cruel can one person be toward those to whom he is bound by marriage and blood? And why?

As Adam investigates, family secrets unravel as quickly and painfully as the September Red Sox. Everyone lies – mother, brother, uncle, his father’s latest lover. Adam’s ex-love is now his mother’s best friend.

Adam seeks out the wisdom of a respected psychiatrist and summer Chilmark resident who notes that fearwas at the “heart of everything Ben did . . . the black hole at his core . . . I’d say that Ben suffered from a poverty of spirit. Only admiration of others could slake his hunger. But there was never enough . . . and whoever stood in his way got hurt.” Sons included.

And then there is the Island, a contrast to all the ugliness, an up-Island summer in full swing: racing for the Herreshoff Cup on Menemsha Pond, dining at the Beach Plum Inn, hiking Menemsha Hills. Fall from Grace is an excellent read, an exciting mystery and character study.

— Liz Durkee