In Lipinski’s debut thriller, a young man digs into his late mother’s buried history, but he may have been better off not learning the family secret.
Zane Clearwater, 26, and little sis, Lettie, were lucky they weren’t at their trailer the night their mother, Sherri, died in a fire. Zane is dismayed that he can’t remember that night (he was drunk), but an anonymous text is even more unsettling. “Sherri Clearwater doesn’t exist,” it says, directing him to a story from 30 years ago about the murder of two teens and the prime but ultimately exonerated suspect, ominously named Jeremiah Doom. Zane and Lettie surmise that not only was Sherri actually Jeremiah’s then-girlfriend, Lily, but Jeremiah is Zane’s father, who Sherri said had died before Zane was born. Father meets son, but there’s trouble ahead for Zane: Jeremiah may be running a meth lab, and cops soon believe Zane killed his mother in addition to another victim or two. Lipinski’s novel begins as a mystery but is less concerned with the siblings’ amateur investigation than with a slow buildup of anxiety and distrust. Zane, for starters, can’t even eliminate himself as the arsonist, and he’s terrified that he may have caused Sherri’s death. And despite Jeremiah’s dubiousness—there’s something off about him carrying a “thick roll of bills”—readers are never completely sure he’s guilty of murder or worse. The same is true for many of the people Zane and Lettie encounter, including Cap, a bar owner who had an affair with Sherri, and Jeremiah’s other sons, Clyde and Link. Delving into Sherri’s past stirs up even more murder, blackmail, and kidnappings. Romance for Zane is, fittingly, murky: he loves dress designer Emmaline, but she doesn’t seem to reciprocate, as she’s more invested in securing her spot on a TV reality show than helping or sympathizing with Zane. Lettie is a merciful bright light in the story; the sibs’ bond is unbreakable, most tellingly expressed when Zane, worried about caring for her, dreams that the two are scouring a trash can for food. By the end, readers will be hooked on the brother-sister team and assorted shady characters to the point that they likely won’t mind the few unanswered questions.
An ordinary murder mystery energized by extraordinary, impassioned characters.