A troubled young woman returns home to Keokuk, Iowa, to reclaim a surprise inheritance and a tortured past in McHugh’s second literary mystery (Weight of Blood, 2015).
Arden Arrowood learns of her paternal grandfather’s legacy just as her life has hit rock bottom. Her family’s historic homestead, Arrowood, her childhood home, had been held in trust for years to keep it away from her feckless father; now he's died, and the house is hers. She leaves Colorado, master’s degree incomplete, with mysterious scars on her arm. Her mother had divorced her father to marry a megachurch pastor and now seems perfectly content wearing outfits from Chico’s and watching QVC. The house has a difficult legacy. In 1994, the Arrowoods’ toddler twin girls went missing from their front yard. Arden, then 8, had briefly left her sisters unattended and thought she saw a yellow sedan speeding off with the towhead twins in the back. Her best friend, Ben, a neighboring child, confirmed her account. A man named Harold Singer was arrested but, due to lack of evidence, was never prosecuted. But Singer’s life was destroyed, and the twins’ bodies were never found. Now, Arden reconnects with her old life, including rekindled feelings for Ben, now a dentist who’s engaged to the former high school prom queen. The kindness of Arrowood’s caretaker, Heaney, who responds to Arden’s frequent calls about leaky plumbing, is tinged with creepiness. Josh Kyle, the founder of a cold-case website called Midwest Mysteries, contacts her. Singer had an unsavory hobby of taking candid photos of young children, and one of these, obtained by Josh, shows the twins, captured in their last moments on Arrowood’s lawn—but Josh thinks the length of the shadows in the pictures might actually prove Singer's innocence. As she ponders possible scenarios, Arden is forced to confront the family dysfunction that predated the crime. Depressed because Arden’s father was having an affair with Ben’s mother, her own mother spent years in a drugged haze. Scenes are dragged out with much description of Keokuk arcana, which distracts from the crime story. The ending is inconclusive in the worst way; in other words, culpability is established—but not addressed.
Long on atmosphere, short on answers.