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Brutal, Evocative Murder Mystery, Deftly Plotted and Utterly Fascinating
on May 5, 2009
Libby Day was seven years old when her mother and two sisters were massacred in a blood-soaked home invasion dubbed by the press as "The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas." It was Libby's testimony which put her then-fifteen-year old brother, Ben, into prison for the rest of his life for the heinous murders.
Now, it is almost twenty-five years later, and Libby, depressed, angry and broke has agreed to attend a meeting of the Kill Club, a strange conglomerate of people obsessed with famous murders. Some of the Kill Club members have become interested in the murders of Libby's family because they are convinced that Ben has been wrongly convicted. After meeting with the Kill Club, Libby, although still sure that Ben is the murderer, decides to try to make some cash from her family's grisly history by charging the Kill Club members to interview people who might have further information about the murders.
In hauntingly compelling prose, this wonderfully talented author deftly unfolds the story of what really happened during the early morning hours of January 3, 1985, and how searching for, and uncovering, that truth will change the lives of Libby and Ben.
The book is told in an interesting intermittent flashback format, with Libby, tough and damaged from her horrific childhood, narrating the present-day chapters in first-person, while the flashback chapters, told in third-person, describe the actions of several key characters on one winter's day in 1985.
Besides Libby, the most fascinating character in the book is that of Ben, the awkward, aimless, angry boy, tottering on the brink of manhood. Ben, yearning for the father-figure which he never had, and being raised in a poverty-stricken household by a single overwhelmed mother, surrounded by bothersome little sisters, is such a troubled, unlikeable protagonist. Yet this author makes the reader see the good in Ben and how much he wants to fit in, even as the story moves the angst-ridden teenager inexorably toward the unspeakable crimes which are at the center of the narrative.
This author's prose style is unique, complex and utterly creative. She is almost Dickensian in her ability to paint a word picture of a situation or a character in a few phrases. For instance, in the first chapter Libby describes herself after the murders: "Little Orphan Libby grew up sullen and boneless, shuffled around a group of lesser relatives...stuck in a series of mobile homes or rotting ranch houses all across Kansas." When Libby sees her brother Ben for the first time in almost twenty-five years, she views him through the glass at the visiting room at the prison: "He looked so much the same, pale face, that Day knob of a nose. He hadn't even grown much since the murders. Like we all got stunted that night."
This novel is a fascinating murder mystery, but it is so much more than that. It is a wise, evocative character study -- a glimpse into the lives of people who are lost and are struggling to find their way in a dangerous world. Some never find a path, some show others a path, and some find refuge -- which can be either heaven or hell. But all of these people -- for better or worse -- matter, and their intertwined lives are a lesson to the reader that even the tiniest action may have huge unintended consequences.