The disappearance of a 12-year-old boy flushes out all manner of secrets in the sleepy farm town of Belinda, Pa.
Jesse Rankin liked shooting crows so much that he played hooky from school to take a shotgun into the woods one spring day and never came out. Widowed Cumberland County Sheriff Marcus Gatesman, when he goes out to question Charlotte Dunleavy, a divorced New York painter who’s leased an adjoining farm, realizes instantly that she’s just as attractive as his secretary and ex-lover had indicated. Whether she has any useful evidence to offer is less certain. In response to his questions, she reports seeing Dylan Hayes, an older boy who works for neighboring farmer Mike Verner, enter the woods around the time Jesse went missing, and not hearing his tractor start up again for another 40 minutes. But when Dylan, thoroughly frightened, confronts her, she backs down, saying that he may have been in the woods only a few minutes and insisting that he can’t possibly have harmed Jesse. Too late: Jesse’s father Denny gets a load on and beats Dylan unmercifully. Once she becomes the latest victim of one of her husband’s alcohol-fueled rages, his wife Livvie refuses to stay with him. Charlotte takes her in and nurses her, then soon enough becomes the patient herself. By this time, many readers will have wondered whether the mystery is any more likely to be solved than the disappearance of the heroine of the Antonioni movie L’Avventura. Rest assured, there’s a hair-raising finale to come.
Slow-moving and oppressively portentous, but Silvis (Disquiet Heart, 2002, etc.) worms his way so deep into Charlotte’s weariness and despair that the horrific ending comes as almost a relief.