A writer’s obsession leads to revenge in this debut mystery novel.
Bella Marx, a literature professor–turned–romance writer, pays an overdue visit to her estranged cousin, Katy, only to discover her dead in an apparent suicide. Katy struggled with mental illness, but Bella knows something is wrong, suspecting that the suicide may have been staged to coincide with her visit. She recovers a manuscript from her cousin’s derelict apartment and a short story about “a deranged matricide” that’s a haunting revision of one Bella and Katy composed years ago (“As undergraduates, Katy and I were zealous political moralists. Our story, if it had any purpose at all, was intended to illuminate social evils”). A series of subtle clues leads Bella on a hunt for answers to her questions surrounding Katy’s death. References to wolves, lost springs, and a darkness found in the margins of San Francisco’s long history take Bella to a modern-day boardinghouse and one step closer to the person who was terrorizing Katy. As Bella searches for the connection, consumed with finding answers, she must wade through her own family’s bleak history, delving into her alcoholic father’s past and digging into a hidden annuity that hints at something evil. Wood offers an engaging tale of fixation, retribution, and family riddles. She deftly weaves together a layered mystery, starting with a suicide that leads to missing manuscripts, mysterious packages, and several tragic deaths. Her prose is occasionally overworked, which results in some awkward phrasing such as “that she was perceptive I had seen at once when I met her for the first time.” Yet there are beautiful passages and moments of great insight: “I always feel apologetic when I talk to you about yourself. It seems like presuming.” In a quirky and arresting cast, the moody ocean, shadowy hills, and fickle weather of California make the setting one of Wood’s best supporting characters. Gloomy mornings and punishing rains reflect the heaviness found in much of the narrative. The gripping mystery’s reveal is handled splendidly, following a delicate dance of prodding questions and half answers. It provides closure without a clichéd fairy-tale ending, underscoring the reality of a world that encompasses grayness and moral ambiguity.
A well-plotted tale about family secrets with a plethora of suspense and intrigue.