The protagonist is this novel is a young woman named Amy who lives in a tiny, dingy basement apartment in Brooklyn. Amy used to party hard, but after her lover breaks up with her, she retreats into a much different, much quieter, and much more lonely life. She now does volunteer work, principally for her church, and among other things, she delivers communion to elderly shut-ins.
One morning she delivers communion to a Mrs. Epifanio who tells Amy that she hasn't seen her usual caretaker, a woman named Diane, in several days. Moments later, a man who identifies himself as Diane's son, Vincent, walks in on the two women, having let himself in with a key that he apparently got from his mother. He tells Amy that his mother is sick and that he is checking in on Mrs. Epifanio until she gets better.
Amy is very unsettled by Vincent's appearance, especially when Mrs. Epifanio tells her that Vincent has been rooting around in her bedroom on his earlier visits. Determined to discover what might be going on, Amy takes to following Vincent and then witnesses something that she wasn't meant to see. The remainder of the book unfolds as Amy deals with the consequences of what she has seen and what she has done--and not done--in consequence.
I have very mixed emotions about this book. For me, it's principal strength is the setting. Boyle clearly knows the neighborhoods in which he has set the novel and the sense of place is outstanding. The reader feels as though he, or she, is walking right alongside Amy as she makes her way along, even though, personally, I don't think I'd want to visit many of these scenes, let alone live in them.
On the downside, I simply could not relate to the character of Amy who, to my way of thinking, made one incredibly bad decision after another. In the end, many of her actions left me simply shaking my head. As a result, I couldn't develop any real empathy for her and, ultimately, I really didn't care very much what happened to her. Also, some of the criminal activity at the heart of the book is pretty hard to believe and so in the end, three and a half stars for me, rounded up to four for the great job Boyle does at setting the scene.