When seventeen-year-old Emma leaves her best friend Abi at a party in the woods, she believes, like most girls her age, that their lives are just beginning. Many things will happen that night, but Emma will never see her friend again.
Abi’s disappearance cracks open the façade of the small town of Whistling Ridge, its intimate history of long-held grudges and resentment. Even within Abi’s family, there are questions to be asked – of Noah, the older brother whom Abi betrayed, of Jude, the shining younger sibling who hides his battle scars, of Dolly, her mother and Samuel, her father – both in thrall to the fire and brimstone preacher who holds the entire town in his grasp. Then there is Rat, the outsider, whose presence in the town both unsettles and excites those around him.
Anything could happen in Whistling Ridge, this tinder box of small-town rage, and all it will take is just one spark – the truth of what really happened that night out at the Tall Bones…
If I didn’t know that Samuel Blake is in his late fifties and was 18 during the Vietnam war, I would have thought this was set in the 1950s. Whistling Ridge is the kind of place everyone young wants to escape from. The fire and brimstone Pastor Lewis runs the town with a rod of iron. Foreigners are not tolerated, but homosexuality is the worst sin. Yet most of the youngsters seem to be out of control. Drinking and drugs are rife.
The story revolves mainly around two families. Emma Alvarez lives with her mother Melissa. Mexican father Miguel has left them but Melissa will never talk about it. Samuel Blake is married to Dolly and they have three children – Noah, Abigail and Jude. We know there were a number of traumatic incidences in Samuel’s life – his treatment by his mother and his time in Vietnam. He drinks and quotes the Bible, beats his wife and punishes the boys. When Dolly goes to see the pastor, he asks her what she did to encourage the beatings.
But Samuel never touches Abi. They believe that Abi will not return until their son repents his sins. It reminds me of a Louis Theroux documentary called the Most Hated Family in America, aired in 2007. The Westboro Baptist Church members believe that the United States government is immoral due to its tolerance of homosexuality. The founder Fred Phelps believed himself to be a prophet chosen by God “to preach his message of hate”.
Rat Lacusta is a twenty-something Romanian boy who lives alone in an RV in the trailer park. Both Emma and Noah are fascinated by him. The park is owned by Jerry Maddox whose son Hunter was last seen with Abi the night she disappeared. And so their lives become intertwined and the town descends into a kind of frenzy of hate and blame.
It’s wonderfully written so why four stars and not five? It’s all rather bleak. I just wish there had been some lighter moments to contrast with the darkness. It’s also slow to start and it took a while to get into it. Sometimes the plot becomes a bit over-complicated but it all makes sense in the end. This is an excellent book, but many of the characters are really horrible and you will hope they get their comeuppance.
Many thanks to #NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author from Anna herself
‘Hello and welcome! I’m the author of Tall Bones, published in the US as Where The Truth Lies.
‘Tall Bones is a literary crime thriller and my debut novel, inspired by the years I spent living in small-town America, particularly in the Colorado Rocky Mountains where this book is set. I also drew a lot of influence from TV shows such as Twin Peaks and True Detective, a childhood’s worth of creepy films, and the brooding Americana music of Johnny Cash and Colter Wall. I am extremely fortunate that the good folks at Goldsboro Books also enjoyed these things and have selected Tall Bones as their Book of the Month for April.
‘Raised in Gloucestershire, I’m a West Country girl at heart, but I now live in France, where I’m currently working on my second novel, and I still can’t believe that’s a sentence I actually get to say.’
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