The violent death of one of his middle school students in his own largely unexplored backyard opens gaping wounds in the life of a substitute teacher.
Warren Botts, who’s already embraced biology as a respite from the numbers that crowded his head when he studied physics, has taken a year to step away from the ivory tower to work in a school whose principal is his academic adviser’s brother. His search for a peaceful life ends the morning he finds Amanda Fuller, a troubled eighth-grade pupil who’d approached him more than once looking for help in her studies, hanging from a tree outside his house. The shock of his discovery awakens Warren’s painful memories of his father’s own death by hanging. And his troubles deepen when Detective Jennifer Reed, piqued by his ineffectual denials that he’d known the girl outside class, anoints Warren her prime suspect. Lundrigan (The Widow Tree, 2014, etc.) methodically alternates chapters tracing Warren’s deepening woes with a first-person narrative by the schemer who was actually responsible for Amanda’s death. As the two stories progress, they intertwine ever more deeply. Both Warren and his opposite number are solitary souls who’ve had fraught relationships with their mothers; both find themselves uncomfortably close to wraithlike sisters (one of whom is dead, the other possibly imaginary); even Warren’s nickname, “War,” recalls warfarin, the poison the killer used in an earlier experiment in vengeance. Just when you’re convinced that these two figures are joined root and branch, the author reveals the truth, which is more disturbing than anything you imagined.
A feast for fans who miss Patricia Highsmith’s and Margaret Millar’s haunting anatomies of people as nice as pie except for their murders.