After a string of murders, the small city of Barrow’s Point, Wisconsin, begins to simmer with distrust and unease, and the McGregor family gets caught up in the tenuous moment in Schirmer’s (Living with Strangers, 1991) novel.
Police Detective Reed McGregor and his partner (and childhood friend) Casey Saunders are called to a crime scene at a row of warehouses, where the body of a young man has been found. The victim was a newcomer to Barrow’s Point, and due to a general lack of evidence, the case soon goes cold. But when more victims are discovered, a terrifying pattern is confirmed: the killer is targeting young gay men. The murders soon fade into the background, though, as the dynamics of the McGregor family step into view and the story explores the motive and aftermath of hostility. Early on, Iris McGregor is consumed with worry that her two gay sons, Reed and Christian, will be next to fall victim to the killer, especially because of their visibility in town; in addition to Reed being a police officer, Christian is an activist. Reed sways with indecision over whether Casey could possibly be attracted to him, and he struggles with how to navigate his ambiguous friendship with his ex-girlfriend, Maggie Saunders, who’s now married to Casey. The third McGregor son, Eddie, is unsure about his sexuality and overcompensates with all the denial and aggression that he can muster. He tries to shame his brother Christian, hangs around with a disreputable crowd, and, in his confusion, commits terrible acts. Like Eddie, other inhabitants of Barrow’s Point sometimes seem to get carried away, against their will, by the things they say and do, and this state of cognitive dissonance isn’t always satisfying as a narrative device. The slow pace of the story, though, can be compelling, as it suits the tone of uncertainty and stress that marks the relationships between various characters. There are also isolated, seemingly inexplicable episodes that add a deliciously tense thread to the novel’s psychological fabric; for example, at one point, Maggie finds “a beguiling blue egg” inscribed with a mysterious message. Later, the original, murderous hook returns in a single, razor-sharp tableau.
An expressionistic, sometimes-murky mystery that engagingly depicts communal fears and the people caught up in them.