Monday, August 18, 2014

Murder in Coal Country

Tawni O'Dell
Simon and Schuster/Gallery Books
August 19, 2014

Dr. Sheridan Doyle is a celebrity forensic psychologist, a TV friendly consultant for the Philadelphia District Attorney Office. He is urbane, well-heeled and extremely well dressed. Underneath he is still Danny Doyle; the same awkward and bullied boy who grew up friendless in Lost Creek, a Pennsylvania coal-country town. Danny's childhood was a horror story of abuse by his alcoholic father and the stigma of a mother who was convicted of killing Danny's infant sister. His only positive influences were his grandfather, Tommy, and a local cop , Rafe Malloy. No wonder he always wanted to get out of Lost Creek and managed to get an Ivy League education through academic and athletic scholarships. However it has been a classic case of the healer being unable to heal himself.  All his high end apparel is just armor, Superman's cape in  the form of an Armani. When he receives word that his 96 year old grandfather has been ill Danny packs up for a visit home to check on him, Danny returns with the greatest trepidation. He loves his grandfather but visits to his home town always bring on nightmares and panic attacks.

America is dotted with hundreds and maybe thousands of dead factory towns and agricultural communities. The jobs have left but the people seem to hang on. Lost Creek is in a class by itself though: the legends surrounding the Nellie O'Neils permeate the air. The O'Neils were  a group of young Irish miners executed by hanging after agitating, sometimes with violence, for better working conditions. Most of the people living in Lost Creek are direct descendants of the O'Neils, Danny included. Even the gallows are preserved by the town. The Dawes family, the mine owners directly responsible for the rigged trial that sent at least eight innocent young men of the the ten executed to their deaths still live in Lost Creek. The Dawes are obscenely rich but the out- of- work miners are, if possible, worse off than ever before. On his first morning home Danny goes out for a run and discovers a dead body at the foot of the gallows; one with connections to the Dawes family. Danny and Rafe team up to find the killer, a long-absent Dawes family returns to Lost Creek and more murders occur.

I have always been a fan of novels that explore the ways that past evils can trickle down to affect the present. One of Us is an extraordinarily atmospheric and well written novel. One can almost see the dreariness of winter in Western Pennsylvania and the decay so evident in Lost Creek. Told in two voices, that of Danny and the killer, One of Us is mesmerizing and thought provoking with an underlying mystery that is well constructed. I can't say enough about the characterization though. Danny, Rafe and especially Tommy are entirely believable; all flawed men trying to get though life as best they can. The killer is also chillingly believable.

I highly recommend  One of Us for readers of mystery, literary fiction and psychological thrillers. Thanks to and Simon and Schuster for an advance digital reading copy.

RATING- 5 stars

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