Veteran journalist turned mystery author Pesta explores an extensive network of crime in a supposedly bucolic countryside.
Small-town newspaper editor Phil Larrison knows better than to pick up a young female hitchhiker late at night, but he can’t leave the broken-legged woman limping down the road. Vague with the details of where she’s going and why, tipsy Paula Henry ends up taking Phil on the ride of his life. After the pair’s gruesome discovery of the bodies of Paula’s friends Cheryl and Wayne Garth in their deserted rented farmhouse, Paula disappears, leaving Phil with a sketchy story of how he happened to break into the rural property late at night, although it does give his newspaper a scoop. While visiting the crime scene the following day, Phil’s car is stolen, and he knows that somehow the elusive Paula is responsible. Recovering his car allows him to meet Paula’s mother Edna Mae and get a lead on another story, this one involving decades-old sexual abuse in the local foster system. Continuing his investigation into the Garths’ murders also introduces Phil to the large Brandon family with their extensive banking, legal and waste management connections. What Phil might never have suspected is that their vast network extends as deep underground as above, and that the drug connection with the Garths that he suspected from the start is only the tip of the iceberg. Very well-written and generally well-paced, the novel’s long, drawn-out denouement degenerates into a painful drawing-room drama of the trailer park variety. As with so many mysteries, the overabundance of characters with convoluted connections makes the reader yearn for a road map, or preferably fewer people to track. Still, the main characters—Phil and Paula, in particular—are finely drawn, complex and will stay with the reader long after the book is over.
A riveting journey into the depths of rural Midwest corruption and scandal.