A 43-year-old murder casts a long shadow over a high school reunion that brings together three friends haunted by the past.
Not much changes in the New Mexico town of Arthur unless it absolutely has to, as a character observes in this debut novel that impresses with its strong sense of place. The stage for this decades-spanning saga is compellingly set when Hezekiah Boyd’s high school reunion committee tracks down the computer software maven. He insists there has been a mistake: The man, formerly known as Buddy, left town and never returned after a prank went wrong and he killed a classmate named Christy Hammond in 1966. He would not be a welcome guest. But the heart of the story shifts to Cullen Molloy and his first love, Shelby Blaine, Buddy’s classmates, friends, and fellow outcasts. Cullen and Shelby were a passionate teenage couple back in the day, and there is still an inextricable bond between them that is not unnoticed by Cullen’s current lover, a retired cop. Murphey keeps the story hopping between events in the ’60s, the aftermath in the ’70s, and the reunion in 2009, when a murder sheds light on the 1966 killing. Cullen, a divorced former lawyer who went to work for Buddy, is called on to defend the man from new suspicions and confront his own long-simmering relationship with Shelby. The author, a New Mexico native and award-winning journalist, knows the lay of the land; not just the geography, but also high school football culture, passionate fumblings in cars, and secrets to be taken to the grave. The book is densely populated with vividly drawn characters. One, Weard Ward, a former genius fried by his years with the CIA, serves as a sort of comic relief, but he is the weakest player. The antagonists, including Christy’s uncle and a former high school nemesis, spout clichéd dialogue (“You’ve got some…nerve showing your face here”). But the relationship between the three friends rings true and deftly holds the sprawling narrative together.
An ambitious, evocative small-town tale located somewhere between Peyton Place and The Last Picture Show.