What if what you think you know, you don’t really know?
In the late 1950s, Detroit’s Alder Avenue neighborhood is on edge. The heat is oppressive. Factories are closing. Blacks are moving in. The police, who neglect the murder of a black prostitute whose head was bashed in with something like a hammer, take up the case of Elizabeth Symanski, a mentally challenged young woman of 22—her mother dead, her father sliding into dementia—who left pregnant Grace Richardson’s house, was watched by Julia Wagner as she walked down the street, opened the gate to her own home and then somehow wandered off. The local women bake casseroles and set them out on impeccably ironed linen cloths for the men who leave their factory jobs to search the grid. But not everyone believes Elizabeth is just lost. Wary eyes are cast at the black residents, wondering if they’re out to avenge one of their own. Battered wife Malina Herze thinks her husband, a factory supervisor who comes home every night with the stench of his mistress on him, may have his eye on the twins visiting Julia Wagner. Julia, whose husband hasn’t touched her since their colic-plagued daughter died last year, wonders if he murdered the infant to stop the incessant crying—and if he did, what else he might do. Her best friend, Grace, about to deliver her first child, refuses to admit that she was attacked by a band of blacks because she thinks her husband couldn’t deal with it, and she believes that they’re probably responsible for Elizabeth’s disappearance. The women’s anguish leads to an assassination by car, a suicide and an unexpected revelation of what actually happened to Elizabeth.
A beautifully written, at times lyrical, study of a disintegrating community. Roy, author of the Edgar Award-winning mystery Bent Road (2011), tackles similar themes here with equally successful results.