Thursday, October 29, 2015

Genre-Bending Debut Novel Set in the Deep South

Hester Young
G. P. Putnam Sons
September 1, 2015

I had picked up an advance reader's copy of The Gates of Evangeline at Book Expo this year but somehow had never gotten around to reading it. That in itself was surprising as the jacket copy indicated that it just might be up my alley; a Southern Gothic with a mystery and mystical overtones. Last weekend our local paper ran an in-depth story on Hester Young and I found that she is a resident of my own Central New Jersey town. So, in keeping with the "spooky season"  I dove in and never put it down until I finished.

Charlotte "Charlie" Cates is a thirty-something journalist and a quintessential New Yorker. She has worked for a fashion and lifestyle magazine for the previous dozen years and has risen to chief editor. However, life has gone very wrong for Charlie in the previous two years; first divorce, followed by the death of her 4-year-old son, Keegan. Charlie is overwhelmed by sorrow and in danger of losing her job; a job that she admittedly has very little interest in anymore. When she is coming out of the worst of her grief she begins to have dreams and visions about children in danger. These children are asking for her help, but she has no way of figuring out who or where they are. One of the children is a small dark-haired boy in a boat. An old friend offers her a deal for a true-crime book about the disappearance of Gabriel Deveau thirty years before. Gabriel was the son of a prominent and wealthy Louisiana family who will allow her access to the family records. Could the boy of her dream be Gabriel? Charlie goes to Louisiana and moves into the family plantation mansion, Evangeline. The Deveau family and the house harbor more secrets and danger than she could have ever imagined.

The Gates of Evangeline kept me entertained and guessing from beginning to end. The characters are extraordinarily well drawn, even the more secondary ones. Charlie is a mix of toughness and vulnerability that I found appealing. I have never suffered the sort of losses that she has, but I can empathize with her and her reactions. I have seen some negative feedback for Young's portrayal of Southern manners and mores; as a transplanted Southerner I found them more realistic than not. There is a saying that "the past is never really past" and that is very true in the South. People everywhere will kill to keep their secrets.

I am looking forward to the next book in the trilogy and the surprises waiting there. Highly recommended!

RATING- 4.5 Stars

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