A reporter’s cover story on spontaneous human combustion hits uncomfortably close to home.
Apart from a faded photograph he once found hidden in her room, reporter Dan Carteret knows next to nothing about his mother, Lucy. Now that Lucy has passed away, the photograph is all Dan has to guide him through her past. Pretending to be tracking a story about three ancient, unexplained cases of spontaneous combustion in Lucy’s hometown of Fort Jude, Fla., he plans to uncover his roots. When he rolls into town, he’s greeted by a close-knit community that appears friendly and welcoming, even though no one seems to have information about the men in the picture Dan’s been showing around town. Dan’s not one to give up, however, and when he finds an abandoned house where local student Steffy McCall whiles away her school hours, he senses that he may be onto something. His hunch is confirmed when a meditative session in the house makes him feel as though he’s communing with past inhabitants, although the message they’re sending him isn’t clear. He’s even more thrown off his stride when he realizes that the residents not only recognize him, but have been trying to hide their own connections to his mother. Now Dan must figure out why.
Parceling out her story among numerous narrators, Reed (Enclave, 2009, etc.) focuses less on suspense or surprise than on serving condign justice.