This was a free Kindle download from Sam Hain (distant cousin to Sam Adams) and since it was three dots long (the length of a book on the Kindle is depicted by a series of dots beneath the title in the contents section of the device) I figured it would be a quick read for me.
Let me say outright: there were a lot things that frustrated me about this story, but Shiloh Walker’s writing is not one of them. Despite the elements that I’ll get to in a moment, I’ll be looking for Walker’s books in the future because her writing is SOLID. The narrative voice was unique and inviting, and often underscored the subtle language differences between the hero (a Southern man) and the heroine (an Indiana sheriff). The plot was tight, with growing and ebbing tension.
Even in the confines of a novella, the hero was nuanced and sympathetic. Michael O’Rourke can hear the dead, see the dead, and generally gets pestered by the dead who aren’t pleased that they’re dead because they wouldn’t be if not for whatever murdering fucknut who killed them. O’Roarke is nearly burnt out entirely, and he began his adult life with most of his innocence and humor cut off by a neglectful, abusive mother. He was saved only by the love and watchful care of his brother. The heroine, Daisy Crandall, is a small town Indiana sheriff plagued by a serial killer who kidnaps women, rapes them repeatedly, chokes and revives them, and then cuts them all over so they exsanguinate slowly, too weak to get help after their dying bodies are dumped in a field. Sick mother fucker.
O’Rourke rolls into town because he’s guided by the sense of anguish and terror that cloaks the town limits, and finds himself assisting both Daisy and the latest victim in the quest for the killer. O’Rourke’s past is revealed in the initial chapter, so he’s already wrenchingly sympathetic. Daisy, on the other hand, must confront the limitations of her own investigation and figure out why this O’Rourke guy is so damn creepy.
Walker has serious skillz with the dramatic tension, the descriptions, the pacing, the mood and the narration, and as a character O’Rourke is marvelously written. I particularly adored the dialogue between O’Rourke and his brother – familial banter with an extraordinary subtext, and humor balanced with pain. Those were definitely my favorite scenes.
There’s very little “meh” in this novella for me – I either adored parts or was screeching about others. The good, I’ve outlined. I don’t know if I can underscore how good I found the good parts, particularly Walker’s writing. It’s damn good. So what made me screech?
There’s a serial killer in a small town in Indiana, and not once does Daisy have to deal with a panicked town? Why aren’t more people flipping out?
The villain was plenty scary but once he’s revealed in full, he becomes less so
to the point where he’s too easily vanquished.
There was no explanation of who he was or how he fit into the community – or how he managed to be an uncaught yet prolific serial killer in a small town in the first place.
But the two most jarring elements were the unresolved plot points, and the sexuality between the protagonists. The romance between protagonists was flat, and it went from “Hey you’re cute” and “You have a nice ass” with a soupçon of “Gee your hair smells terrific” to serious bonerating in .02 seconds. Plus, since that rapid acceleration of bonerating status happens AFTER some violent discussion of rape and the murder victims, it was hard for me to separate the two because the protagonists’ attraction was so flimsy and based on so little time together that it read like satiation of lust instead of true emotional connection, even the beginnings of one. Plus, the subtext of the seizing sexual gestures within their first encounter was discomfiting when contrasted the villain in the preceding chapters.
Further, the resolution of O’Roarke’s brother’s story is left out, despite several specific statements as to what end his brother is seeking. O’Roarke’s brother is one of the factors that enables the reader to understand the nobility and strength of his character; to see his brother cheated of his own resolution in the end of the story was terribly unsatisfying. Unless there’s a second book about him, I am really, truly bummed that he didn’t have his own ending. The lack of resolution to that particular plot point, since it supercedes all the other resolutions that Michael must seek on behalf of others every day of his extraordinary life, is disappointing and leaves a great void in my enjoyment of the novella.
But even despite those dangling threads and my questions of the scope of the villainy, Shiloh Walker has some badass writing chops. Her writing is sharp, descriptive, and intelligent, and I was instantly dragged into her story. That’s quite a talent, considering how short novellas are. The fact that I missed the ending to the journeys of ancillary characters is also a testament to Walker’s talent, because I gave a hell of a crap about secondary characters, and missed seeing them reach a satisfactory ending. As I said, I’m definitely keeping my eye out for more, as I am ever a fan of unique and fascinating character collections.