A mystery novel renders an intricate landscape of history and violence.
The back roads and wilderness around Macinaw, South Carolina, have loads of anecdotes, but it can take a quirk of fate and more than a little elbow grease to unearth complete stories. When two hunters discover a sheriff’s patrol car deep in the woods, buried under mounds of kudzu and containing a human skeleton, it’s instantly clear that just such an uncovering is about to begin. The hunters supply the serendipity, but the hard work proves a little more complicated. Tindal Huddleston is a cold case reporter for Reuters, and she has plenty of experience to get the job done. But she doesn’t understand the first thing about the South, and so turns to Chandler “Chan” Adams, once a reporter himself who spent much of his career trying to solve this very mystery. The narrative switches between the present and Chan’s cub reporter days in the 1970s, when the crimes in question were still happening, or at least fresh in the town’s memory. But while Tindal and Chan do win each other over, forming a partnership of mutual respect and charm, the depths of this story will put their skills to the test and their weaknesses on full display. In a twisting tale that weaves through the crimes of a serial killer, a protest massacre at the hands of highway patrol officers, and a high-profile execution, what will be revealed at the heart of one of the state’s greatest mysteries is anyone’s guess. The only certainty is that things will never be the same. Thackston’s (Tidal Pools, 2013, etc.) novel boasts intriguing characters and strong prose (“Giant oaks draped in Spanish moss stood watch over black willows, long-leaf pine, dogwood and oddly shaped maple trees. Under the trees, ferns and alligator grass mixed with fading wildflowers, and orange trumpet vine and wild kudzu, which seemingly sprung from everywhere, weaved it all into one natural tapestry”). What’s more, the dual timelines add to the character development. Seeing Chan go from hapless novice reporter to good-natured (if down-on-his-luck) townie is absorbing. The time changes also build a superb sense of place, as the reader views the town through both nostalgic and modern eyes. The tale offers plenty of dramatic turns, compelling questions, and complex tensions to keep readers plowing through.
A dark page-turner with an engrossing Southern sensibility.