A young man’s summer vacation on his grandparents’ farm brings to light a 54-year-old, unsolved murder—and maybe the murderer as well—in Jereczek’s debut thriller.
The summer of 1984 is Edgar Karpinsky’s last before college. Not surprisingly, he’s reluctant to spend it with his grandparents, helping care for their cows in the small town of Jaylor, Wisconsin. But Edgar is also scared of his grandpa John, who once tied his 6-year-old grandson to a rocking chair outside during a thunderstorm. Edgar has barely settled in and he’s already wary of the hog barn, to which John seems to be staying close. A quick search uncovers a hidden gun, but John doesn’t appear shocked by the discovery. Instead, he has a story to tell Edgar about the enigmatic Martin Tall, whose 1930 shooting death has become a local legend. Jereczek’s novel begins as a psychological drama; Edgar is unmistakably disturbed by memories of John, and his parents, inexplicably, are itching to drop him off at the farm and leave him. But Jereczek dives right into the mystery, quickly introducing the Tall murder via a newspaper clipping Edgar stumbles upon. The story, courtesy of John’s tale, bounces from yesteryear to the story’s present day, with the occasional police report—for readers’ eyes only—and a few other characters speaking to Edgar, including Great Aunt Lucy and John’s friend Stanley. The 1930 flashbacks are riveting, diving into the trouble that surrounds gangster types setting up a whiskey distillery in John’s old sheep barn. And the whodunit is coupled with a whowasit, since Tall’s background is largely unknown, even to the investigating cops. Most readers will guess a major plot twist well before it’s revealed, but Jereczek fortunately doesn’t save that one until the end, opting to cap the novel with multiple other twists, one or two unrelated to the murder but all with the capacity to startle. Meanwhile, Edgar’s romances—one lost, another possibly found—don’t get enough pages to register. Nevertheless, scenes with veterinarian intern Maye, however small, are welcome reprieves from the much darker past.
At its best when examining John’s history, while the author smartly underplays the murder plot.