It took me sometime to realise that this masterful author, Chris Whitaker, has written a book with an accent. As I began reading and feeling the tension, I found myself hearing a Southern American accent in the words. It’s something I have never experienced before.
The tale focusses on the disappearance of Summer Ryan from a small town in Alabama during a time when an impending storm has nearly blacked out the sun for many days. The darkness of the storm hints at the darkness of elements in the town and community. Summer tells her own story in chapters, alternating with present day and past events portrayed in other chapters. It is a balance that keeps the reader wondering if she has run or been taken.
The complicated lives of the families and townsfolk are illustrated through a lens of fear brought about by the disappearance of ‘good, church-going girls’ in the area over a short period of time. The police are clueless as to what, why and who is behind these disappearances and need to deal with the community expectations and paranoia as they battle their own personal demons.
This book covers family dysfunction, child abuse, loss, marital fractures, the character and responsibilities of church pastors, illness, sexuality, friendship and the special bond between twins as it delves into loyalties and guilt through the eyes of both the guilty and the innocent. It is complex and riveting, offering an insight into personal traumas and small-town life.
The reader thinks they have solved the mystery several times before the storm breaks and light is shed on the true horrors that have been festering in and around the town of Grace and the Red River.
This is not an easy read, but well worth the time you will need to invest to put all the pieces together and the uncomfortable questions it may bring to light for you to answer in your own lives. It ends with a glimmer of hope, leaving you thinking that you will read this again in the future.
Reviewed by Leanne Caune
Rating out of 10: 8
Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Release date: October 2017