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Cumbo (Blue Doors, 2019, etc.) offers readers a twisty psychological drama of loss, redemption, and trust.

Seventeen-year-old Mike Whittaker has a hard time handling his father’s death from a heart attack nearly four years ago, but losing his 9-year-old brother, Andy, in an avoidable, accidental drowning completely unhinges him. Both he and his mother turn to alcohol and marijuana to cope, and Mike’s desperate sadness, and his fury at those responsible for Andy’s death, lead him to commit a crime, which leads to his arrest. His case comes to the attention of two former police officers who run a rehabilitation therapy program in an isolated part of Montana. There, Mike meets other troubled youth and slowly begins to face the hurt, helplessness, and anger roiling inside him. Everyone at the center seems to be making progress, but then unexpected tragedy strikes, forcing the troubled teens to make life-or-death decisions. Cumbo’s account of Mike’s difficult life, and the lives of the other young men in the rehab program, create a sense of sadness that threatens to overwhelm the story. However, the boys go on to show agency and impressive ability, which makes for a more appealing tale with a faster pace. The therapy scenes effectively deepen the characterizations, and readers will feel how living in the stark wilderness setting, beautifully detailed by the author, might help the young men begin to heal and move forward. The mystery and thriller elements reveal themselves quietly, but then quickly take over the narrative, and the final 100 pages of the novel will have readers on the edges of their seats. The satisfying and complex conclusion adds further emotional depth without lapsing into bathos.

A moving, slow-burn thriller that’s enlivened by stunning scenery.

Page count: 341pp
Publisher: One Lane Bridge
Program: Kirkus Indie
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