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Friday, March 4, 2016

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

William Morrow, 464 pages, $14.99 (c2015)

Lou Berney has written a captivating and intense novel about long-harbored grief. A childhood trauma never goes away, especially if the crime that caused the trauma remains unsolved. Twenty-six years after the original crimes, Berney’s protagonists’ agony bursts forth from long-suppurating wounds.

Oklahoma City may be “oh, so pretty,”* but it also harbors real and fictional violence. In the background of the two stories in “The Long and Faraway Gone” is the real bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. Although the fictional stories have nothing to do with the bombing, the protagonists’ past nightmares were as sudden and catastrophic as the attack on the Murrah Building.

Wyatt Rivers is a private detective in Las Vegas. On behalf of Gavin, an important employer/friend, he agrees to help out a relative of Gavin’s wife. The catch is that the relative lives in Oklahoma City, and Wyatt says yes to the job before he realizes where he is going. Oklahoma City holds many bad memories for Wyatt, and it has been many years since he has been back. It is not obvious until much later in the book that Wyatt grew up in Oklahoma City, so I apologize if this minor spoiler takes away some of the enjoyment of reading this book. Turn away if you don’t want to hear more.

Twenty-six years ago Wyatt was a teenager with a summer job in a movie theater when several of his co-workers were killed in a robbery. He has successfully sublimated his fear, anger, and sadness over the years, but there is an element of an unfinished life that hangs over him. Although he has no initial intention of investigating his own past, he is inexorably drawn to familiar sights, which in turn draw his memories back to that summer and the people who were killed.

The actual case Wyatt has come to investigate is about a young woman who inherited a legendary tavern. Someone is harassing Candace, she believes, in an attempt to chase her off the property. Is it the prior owner’s no-goodnik brother? Is it one of her stoner neighbors? Is it one of her eccentric staff? One day Candace found her car covered in bird poop. Just HER car. In the tavern’s busy parking lot. The pranks are escalating into something more dangerous, and Wyatt can’t seem to get a handle on it.

Julianna Rosales has the other story. When she was thirteen, Genevieve, her beautiful older sister, disappeared. One moment they were enjoying themselves at a fair, and the next Genevieve was gone. Julianna, unlike Wyatt, has hung around OK City and works as a nurse. But she, too, is unable to pack away the past.

Both Wyatt and Julianna begin separate, serious and sometimes rash investigations in last-ditch attempts to put their pasts to rest. Do their tragedies intersect? Do their modern-day investigations meet? Berney does a great job working each case separately, and even, in Wyatt’s case, attempting to solve Candace’s problem. Will that prove to be related to either past tragedy? It’s a page-turner to find out.

Although this book was written in 2015, I am giving it an MBTB star! Aside from a most excellent plot, Berney handled his two very different main characters with aplomb. 

Finally, this book is the one I pick to win the Edgar Award for Best Novel. Unfortunately, it can’t win it, because it is not nominated. It is nominated for Best Paperback Novel. Maybe people fear that if there isn’t a separate category, paperback originals would never receive any notice. I don’t know the politics of why this book wasn’t issued in hardcover first. I don’t know why there isn’t just one category for best novel, regardless of whether it is issued in hardcover or paperback first. I just know I really liked THIS book best.

* “Route 66” by Bob Troup

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