In a small, dead-end Kansas community devastated by the opioid epidemic, two young women grapple with dark family secrets.
It has been less than a month since Sadie Keller’s 36-year-old brother, Shane, died suddenly, but Sadie can’t get straight answers as to the exact cause of his death. His widow, Crystle, is evasive, claiming she came home and found Shane unresponsive. An impatient Detective Lacey Kendrick is equally unhelpful, noting that the coroner had ruled natural causes, possibly a heart attack, based on some prescriptions found at the scene. She has no time to investigate further because the recent discovery of a child’s skull in the woods may be connected to Macey Calhoun, who vanished with her father the previous spring. Besides, untimely deaths are all too common in Cutler County, Kansas, thanks to the drug crisis. Sadie must now delve into her brother’s private life for answers. Meanwhile, 18-year-old Henley Pettit is desperate to escape her disreputable family and limited future in Blackwater. But her addict mother has relapsed after two years of sobriety, and a housekeeping job with the wealthy Sullivans entangles Henley in a complicated relationship with spoiled only son Jason. Alternating between Sadie’s first-person narration and Henley’s third-person perspective, McHugh’s (Arrowood, 2016, etc.) domestic thriller links the two storylines when the Calhoun case becomes a double homicide with a possible connection to Shane’s death. Although terrible crimes lie at the heart of this novel, it is more sorrowful portrait of troubled families than gripping suspense; the culprits are obvious early on. Still, readers will become invested in the struggles of the well-drawn lead protagonists; the stoic and resourceful Henley will especially remind Daniel Woodrell fans of Ree Dolly, the heroine of Winter’s Bone.
Inspired by the still-unresolved sudden death of McHugh’s brother, this third novel is atmospheric grit lit with emotional depth.