This debut novel won the Anthony, Macavity, Barry, and Edgar Awards, and I thought they were well-deserved.
Although this is a police procedural mystery, it has literary qualities uncommon in the genre. French begins by describing the summer when a pivotal crime takes place:
“…this is summer full-throated and extravagant in a hot pure silkscreen blue. This summer explodes on your tongue tasting of chewed blades of long grass, your own clean sweat, Marie biscuits with butter squirting through the holes and shaken bottles of red lemonade picnicked in tree houses. It tingles on your skin with BMX wind in your face, ladybug feet up your arm; it packs every breath full of mown grass and billowing wash lines; it chimes and fountains with birdcalls, bees, leaves and football-bounces and skipping-chants, One! two! three! This summer will never end.”
The story is narrated by 30-year-old murder detective Adam Robert Ryan. He is the survivor of a crime committed in August of 1984 when he and two of his friends, all aged twelve, were playing in the woods. Only Adam came back, covered in blood. He never remembered what happened, and was afraid to try.
When another child is found dead in the same area eighteen years later, Ryan and his partner Cassie Maddox draw the case. Ryan and Cassie have become best friends, but no more than that – at first. As the case heats up and Ryan starts to get sporadic memories back, he gets close to a nervous breakdown, and all his relationships as well as his job become threatened. He never knew how happy he had been prior to this case, until it was over….
Evaluation: French is not only an excellent wordsmith, but is expert at character studies as well. At one point Ryan says, “I am intensely aware, by the way, that this story does not show me in a particularly flattering light.” Indeed, French draws her characters with warts and all, making them that more realistic for doing so. And yet, in spite of their failings, you can’t help but like Ryan and Cassie and hope for the best for them. In the end, while you desperately wish this turned out more like a fairy tale, you recognize that the author told the better story.
Published by Viking, 2007