In this fish-out-of-water thriller, a Richmond reporter takes on a curious homicide case in Appalachian Virginia.
Television reporter Taylor Beckett is not initially interested in driving from Richmond all the way to southwest Virginia to cover the detection of three bodies, all men, each found sealed in a plastic drum and dumped in the woods. “Somebody’s moonshine gig gone bad, probably,” thinks Taylor. “Or dope. Always dope in that part of the state.” But once she gets there, she realizes there is more to the story than meets the eye. For one, the men were all killed by a different method. For another, Eric Blevins, a sensitive, animal-loving teenage water utility employee who found the first victim, has a name very similar to a man from Taylor’s past. She successfully coaxes Eric into talking to her, no mean feat in the highly secretive holler culture of Randall County. Haunted by an unresolved trauma from her past, Taylor throws herself into investigating the murders, especially since the local authorities don’t appear particularly interested in doing so. Little does she know she will be forced to wade through a quagmire of corruption, addiction, prostitution, animal cruelty, and a generationslong suspicion of outsiders in her attempt to solve a case that gets right to the heart of modern Appalachia. Ryan’s (Wingspan, 2017, etc.) prose is textured and lived-in, particularly when describing the settings and people of Randall County. “It’s not odd,” says Eric, when Taylor asks him about a man shooting a hunting dog. “Not around here. A dog don’t do the job, it serves no purpose. Hunters kill ’em all the time. Leave ’em in the woods. Trade ’em, dump ’em, whatever.” Taylor—a jaded but ambitious loner who knows how to handle her male co-workers—will read as a bit overly familiar to fans of the genre, but her well-developed backstory provides an intriguing ballast and helps explain her drive to find answers. On the whole, the author manages to move beyond crime novel clichés and expose the deeper ills of the society in which her tale is set.
An immersive and substantial murder mystery with a strong heroine.