Twenty-five years after a devastating shooting and the unrelated disappearance of a teenage girl, the survivors of both events struggle to find out what really happened so they can move on with their separate lives.
Edgar nominee Berney (Whiplash River, 2012) introduces two damaged but engaging characters: Wyatt, the sole survivor of a robbery/shooting at a movie theater that left six other people dead; and Julianna, whose beautiful and mercurial older sister, Genevieve, disappeared at the Oklahoma State Fair and has been presumed murdered ever since. The plot is driven by their searches for what happened in the past as well as a present-day mystery that brings Wyatt, now a private detective, home to Oklahoma City, the site of both earlier losses. Berney alternates his focus between their two stories, and while their paths do cross once or twice, there is no forced blending of the narratives. As in classic noir, the evocation of a specific place—Oklahoma City—and time’s effects add another layer of meaning. Also as suggested by the noir-ish title and tradition, Berney’s novel is most truly a thoughtful exploration of memory and what it means to be a survivor. Elegiac and wistful, it is a lyrical mystery that focuses more on character development than on reaching the “big reveal.” The novel smartly avoids being coy; there are answers to private detective Wyatt’s case and answers to the mysteries from the past, but they reflect the truth of such moments; in the end, the answers are almost beside the point because the wondering, the questions, never really go away. But both characters do achieve their own kind of closure, and that allows the reader to also feel some comfort of fulfillment.
A mystery with a deep, wounded heart. Read it.