In this bleak Alaskan noir, an embittered, street-hardened woman is determined to find her estranged mother’s killer.
A letter summons a reluctant Kris Gabriel, 24, now living in Los Angeles, to her native Alaska to reunite with her mother, Evie, an alcoholic whom she left nine years before. There’s no love lost between the two, and when Evie is brutally murdered, her body discovered in a stream, some expect Kris to “be glad to bury her mother, to put her last connection to her life in Alaska behind her.” Instead, she wants only to get justice for a woman who “had been stepped on by everybody who’d come through her life,” including police, lovers, landlords, “and social workers who’d nit-picked her with a million chicken-shit rules.” Heath’s debut novel is gripping from the get-go, populated by a gallery of indelible characters and set against a landscape that’s both breathtakingly beautiful and punishing, as in this unnerving image of Evie’s floating body: “The water washed over her rhythmically, like a pulse.” Heath writes efficient scenes of suspense and jolting violence, but the quieter, more reflective moments are the most memorable: “They sat sipping the tea; looking out the window at the shadows cast by the city’s hard yellow lights and listening to the gusts of wind tap the window with pellets of rain.” Genre conventions will put readers on guard to suspect the motives of all who cross Kris’ path, including Ben Stewart, the outdoorsman who’d befriended Evie and later found her body; Vern, the last man with whom Evie was seen; and Loren Lambale, a bank executive who touts his contributions to the local shelter where Evie was a frequent guest. Heath’s strong sense of place throughout gives the story firm roots.
An auspicious mystery debut.