Ireland’s Collins (The Man Who Dreamt of Lobsters, 1993; etc.) decamps to Amish country for a neatly constructed tale of murder and mayhem.
The Amish, as it turns out, are but a backdrop. So, too, are the children—“little grubs in their heavy coats printed with their favorite TV characters . . . carrying lunch boxes with Scooby Doo and My Little Pony painted in bright colors”—of the little Indiana town where Collins’s narrator/protagonist uneasily lives and works. Barely named throughout the course of the narrative, our hero, Lawrence, is a disaffected, divorced cop who shares the alcohol-consumption levels of a Harry Crews lead but is even more hapless. Small-town life hasn’t been good to Lawrence, and from the outset the reader knows it won’t be good for many other of Collins’s characters, either. The trouble begins, appropriately enough, on a Halloween in the ’80s, when the town’s high-school football hero is placed at the scene of a grisly accident: a little girl has been run over, the driver has fled. Said hero is remorseful when the facts are made known to him, but not for the obvious reasons. Meanwhile, the town elders band together in an effort to convince officer Lawrence not to ruin the kid’s future, and Lawrence almost bites at the tempting offers. Alas, he has a conscience and plenty of moral bearing, however woozy, which are troubled when other citizens of the little town—a cheerleader and a dog among them—start to turn up dead. Collins, with bows to hardboiled conventions (“By six-thirty in the morning, after a night without sleep, I had lived and died a thousand deaths, and drunk two pots of coffee”), takes his tale through elaborate twists and turns to a most satisfying—and most unexpected—resolution that’s sure to please the most demanding mystery buff.
Nicely done: relentlessly dark, unfailingly well written.