The latest from Evans (The Divided, 2005, etc.), author of the blockbuster The Horse Whisperer (1995), ranges from a 1950s British boarding school to early-’60s Hollywood gossip to contemporary war crimes in Iraq.
As 1960 approaches at Ashlawn Preparatory, lonely Tommy Bedford, not yet ten, is a mostly inconspicuous boy teased for being a bedwetter. He feels exiled from home and especially from his beautiful, vivacious sister, a starlet who's just moved to Los Angeles to seek fame in film; his chief solace is an obsession with bold cowboy heroes, among them a small-screen gunslinger named Red McGraw. Tommy’s sister shows up on the redbrick campus in a stretch limo one day, squired by Ray Montane, the actor who plays Red. Soon after, Diane divulges a shocking secret—Tommy is not her brother but her son, conceived when she was a teen, and his aged parents are really grandparents—and she and Ray whisk Tommy to Hollywood to live with them. Inevitably, the sunny fantasy curdles, and Ray turns out not to be quite the square-jawed scourge of injustice he plays on television. Eventually, his poisonous jealousy results in an act of violence that, we learn in the book's opening scene, ends (not quite plausibly) with Diane being executed. Four decades later, ex-alcoholic Tom Bedford lives alone in Montana, soldiering on amid the wreckage of a marriage and a once-promising writing career. But when his estranged son, Danny, who enlisted in the Marines over Tom's objections, is charged with murder after a civilian massacre in Iraq, Tom—trying both to reconnect to his boy and to save him from conviction—is forced to acknowledge, and to do something about the toxic residue of, the secret he'd thought buried. Evans has put together a slick, well-constructed entertainment, but it often succumbs to cliché and grimly dogpaddles in the mainstream, never taking a risk.
The novel is brisk-paced and crowd-pleasing, but hardly brave.