Christner’s (The Water Bearer, 2008) family drama set in the American South tells the story of a daughter returning home to care for her terminally ill mother and of past violent crimes that shook the close-knit community to its core.
The narrative is divided into four parts, each subdivided into short chapters, and shifts between Beverly Ann’s latter-day struggles to provide assistance for her ailing parent and her girlhood and teenage years. The protagonist moved away from her hometown of Hickory Bend, North Carolina, long ago, attending college and law school and then moving out of state to join a successful firm. Once she’s reunited with her mother in Hickory Bend, readers gradually come to understand the complex web of loss and pain that underpins their relationship. During her stay, Beverly Ann reflects on her close relationship with her late grandmother and on the acrimonious breakup of her own parents. On the periphery of her adolescence, however, lurked the terrifying figure of the Creeper, a man linked to the gruesome deaths of several local women and girls. The teenage Beverly Ann’s plan to scrounge money for bus fare to visit her estranged father goes tragically awry, with lifelong consequences for both herself and her mother. Determined to get out of Hickory Bend after high school, Beverly Ann takes on a number of odd jobs from wealthier families in the community, including acting as a nurse to a childhood friend who lost a limb during military service. Overall, this engaging mystery and family saga delivers a raw, unsentimental treatment of loss and family dynamics, made richer by a vivid sense of place. As past and present storylines resolve, Christner shows how the protagonist evolves from the walled-off, cold figure of the novel’s opening pages into a remarkably composed woman of steel will harboring a terrible secret. Despite the languid, humid atmosphere, Beverly Ann’s story makes for riveting reading and a powerful reminder of the ghosts—real and imagined—that continue to live among us.
A gripping, subtle, and page-turning mystery.