A stunningly atmospheric contemporary stand-alone - about murder, madness and dangerous secrets in a small town
Randall Wilkes, his big-city journalism career in ruins, has returned after twenty years to Pilgrim's Rest, the Tennessee hill town where he grew up. He has taken on a lucrative but low-prestige writing job for Sonny McMahan, a former governor and Randall's boyhood friend. Faye McMahan, Sonny's mother, is addled with age, imagining that her dead husband is alive and worrying that her son might be in danger. Amid a violent autumn storm, Randall finds Faye hideously murdered, hanged by the neck from a bridge over the town landmark called Damnation Falls. Within days, another person connected to the McMahan clan is murdered in an even more grisly fashion. And the bones of a third, long-buried murder victim - a young woman - have emerged from the earth.
Randall's ties to the victims force him to acknowledge debts that go back decades. Drawing on his investigative skills and his roots in the region, he sets out to discover who is behind the killings. His search takes him the length of the state - a land once split by civil war, where history lies close to the surface and tales of murder and betrayal weigh heavily on the town of Pilgrim's Rest. Before all the answers are in, more people will die, an old score will be settled, and the dead will finally tell their stories.
The nature of truth, the minefield of emotions between fathers and sons, and the madness of vengeance converge in Shamus-winner Wright's intricate first stand-alone. Randall Wilkes, fired from his job as a top Chicago newspaper reporter, limps back to his hometown in rural Tennessee to write a biography of his childhood friend, former governor Sonny McMahan. Almost immediately, Sonny's elderly mother and her young caregiver are brutally murdered, and Sonny's reprobate father, reported dead, reappears. When a decades-old skeleton is recovered and identified as Randall's first love, he puts the biography aside and sets out to find the killers. The complex plot makes the most of tangled smalltown connections, moving fluidly from nostalgic remembrances, ruminations on friendship and filial devotion, to old-fashioned suspense and violence. Wright (Red Sky Lament) captures the rich, earthy essence of the South and wraps up his story with a sweet coda, all the more touching for being understated.