A concise, hauntingly realistic murder mystery.
Alexander effectively uses his story’s setting—the small, bleak, working-class town of Litchell, Mich.—to create an eerie, constrictive atmosphere that looms over the narrative; he describes scene after scene of empty fields, heavy clouds and sharp, chilly air. It seems like a natural fit for the novel’s protagonist, Reese Wilton, a 28-year-old veteran who recently moved to town seeking some hard factory work and an escape from an ambiguously dark couple of years in Colorado. On his way to the factory one morning, he encounters a horrifying scene: six dead bodies at the bus stop, including two children, all apparently strangled. One of the dead kids, Bella, was one of Reese’s neighbors. Although Reese does not have many friends, he cared a great deal for Bella, and for her single mother, Maria, who remains alive. As the first person on the scene, Reese is brought in for questioning by Litchell’s sheriff, Ron Daniels, who’s a veteran himself. The sheriff believes Reese is likely innocent, but Reese’s recent arrival in town—and his checkered past—create some doubts. In the days following Bella’s death, a string of similar murders occurs, with high school students, homeless people and elderly people all falling prey to what appears to be a group of stranglers. While the police investigate, Reese conducts an investigation of his own, promising Maria that he’ll find the person who killed Bella. It’s a risky move, as Reese’s continued presence at the crime scenes only makes him look more culpable. The mystery unfolds as Reese’s and Sheriff Daniels’ separate investigations lead them both to the same place, but they find something there that neither could have guessed. Alexander does a fantastic job crafting tense scenes, often using engaging descriptions of the town’s still atmosphere and Reese’s stoic, internal thought processes rather than dialogue or action. Although the narrative’s world is a small one, he makes sure that it’s thoroughly developed.
A focused mystery, simultaneously satisfying and unsettling.