The search for a killer in a decades-old homicide exposes family secrets in a Pacific Northwest town in this historical novel.
In 1994, Sal Bremer; her husband, Rob; and their children move into the Chatsle House. It’s in the couple’s hometown, where the Chatsles were a notoriously wealthy family. Sal is fascinated by the former homeowners, as son Andy went missing in action during the Vietnam War and there are questions surrounding matriarch Celeste’s death (a car somehow crushed her against a tree). So Sal is understandably curious about the diaries Celeste left behind. Meanwhile, Vietnam veteran Kevin Occley has already perused some of Celeste’s diaries, hoping for answers about his sister Kitty’s unsolved murder in ’64. An unknown person has been letting Kevin inside the attic and later, after the Bremers take up residence, giving him notes on additional diary entries. Reading about Celeste’s life reveals a host of surprises, including her link to The Society of the Red Dragon, a mysterious spy organization. But the diaries further detail secrets among the families that spent decades in the town. As Kevin receives a note warning him off his hunt, he and Sal inch closer to identifying Kitty’s killer. Celeste’s diaries play out as flashbacks, giving the enthralling story a lengthy timeline beginning in 1915 and focusing on Vietnam. There’s an abundance of characters, quite a few who appeared in McGinnis’ (Five Cats of Hamburg, 2015) preceding novel. Reading the earlier book isn’t necessary but does enrich this tale once familiar names start popping up. Along with the murder mystery, the author provides a brooding atmosphere with the old, often spooky house. For example, after seeing an unexplained light in the attic, Sal goes to check on it, with her daughter, Tali, and some friends—all during an ominous storm outside. The final act runs a bit long, as McGinnis intentionally prolongs the murderer’s unveiling. But the resolution, coupled with other plot turns, results in a satisfying ending.
Rich in characters and real-world events and a worthy companion piece to the author’s previous book.