A sixth journey back in time to Center Springs, Texas, in 1968 reveals a family feud ready to claim more victims.
There’s been bad blood between the Clays and the Mayfields ever since a dispute over a lame mule Randall Clay sold Old Man Mayfield during the Depression. The simmering antipathy between the two clans flares into new life when a car runs off the roadway spanning the Lake Lamar dam, killing both Mayor Frank Clay and Maggie Mayfield. What were the two doing in the same vehicle, and why did whichever of them was driving lose control of the car? Despite the steadying influence of Constable Ned Parker and Sheriff Cody Parker, Wes Clay, the mayor’s big brother, and Hollis Mayfield, Maggie’s father-in-law, are each quick to blame the other family for the two deaths. And the bad blood between them darkens with the murders of Merle Mayfield, acting mayor Joe Bill Haynes, and, yes, Hollis Mayfield. Wortham (Dark Places, 2015, etc.) makes it clear from the beginning, however, that the real culprit is a loner calling himself the Wraith who’s playing the Clays and the Mayfields off against each other for his own murderous ends. Readers anxious to spot the Wraith as 15-year-old Top Parker, Ned’s grandson and Cody’s nephew, might as well relax; the extended climax at the Patterson and Bates Dreamland Exposition will find them still shaking their heads in bemusement, trying to remember who’s related to whom and who’s carrying a grudge against whom.
Despite the high body count and obligatory peeks inside the killer’s mind, both mystery and suspense are subordinated to a leisurely survey of the locals, whose numbers seem only to increase as they’re killed off.