Friday, February 19, 2016

A Haunting Crime Novel that Explores the Power of Memory

This is a very unique and beautifully written crime novel that examines the ways in which a single incident can alter the course of a life, the ways in which the past is always with us, and the power that our memories can hold over us. 

Two separate tragedies occur in Oklahoma City in the summer of 1986. In the first, six young employees of a movie theater are shot to death in a robbery. One employee survives and is haunted by the memory of that night and by the question of why he alone was left to live. The second incident involves the disappearance of a teenage girl named Genevieve from the Oklahoma State Fair. She leaves her younger sister, Julianna, promising that she will only be gone for a few minutes. Twenty-five years later, Julianna is still waiting for her sister to return with her own life basically on hold until she can resolve the mystery of what happened that night.

Meanwhile, the boy who survived the theater massacre has changed his name and become Wyatt Rivers, a P.I. working in Las Vegas. As a favor to an important customer, who is also a friend, Wyatt agrees to investigate a case that takes him back to Oklahoma City for the first time in twenty-five years. A young woman named Candace Kilkenny has inherited a music club there and someone is harassing her, perhaps attempting to drive her out of the club and out of town. 

Wyatt agrees to attempt to identify the culprit and put a stop to the harassment. But from the moment he arrives back in Oklahoma, his memories pull him back to the night of the massacre and, in addition to investigating Candace's problems, he finds himself desperately attempting to find answers to the questions about that night that have followed him ever since.

Meanwhile, Julianna is working as a nurse, her thoughts never straying far from the memory of her lost sister. She continues to hound the detective who was in charge of the case and he patiently continues to answer her questions. The principal suspect in Genevieve's disappearance was a carnival worker who had hit on Genevieve. Julianna told the police that her sister was going to meet the guy, but it turns out that he had an iron-clad alibi: he was arrested for petty theft that evening, and Genevieve was seen alive by a witness following the arrest.

The detective lets it slip the the ex-carny is back in town. When Julianna expresses a desire to talk to him, the detective warns her away. This is a seriously bad guy and she should keep her distance. But Julianna will never be able to move forward with her life until she knows that happened to her sister and so, in spite of the detective's advice, she determines to try to make contact with the guy.

Both Wyatt and Julianna are very appealing characters. Wyatt in particular, is smart and funny and lights up every page on which he appears. His relationship with Candace, who gives at least as good as she gets, is very entertaining, and both of these stories pull the reader in and refuse to let go.

Again, Berney writes beautifully; the book is very well plotted and this is one of those cases where you want to race through the book to find out what happens and then go back and re-read it very slowly to savor the experience. An easy 4.5 stars for me.

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