Monday, October 9, 2017

INHERIT THE BONES :: Emily Littlejohn

A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is reprinted here with permission. The paperback edition comes out on October 24, 2017.

"This town loses more good boys than it keeps."

Fair warning: this book includes a clown. The clown is good and dead, if that helps, and it's Deputy Gemma Monroe's job to figure out who killed him in Emily Littlejohn's fantastic debut mystery, Inherit the Bones. When the identity of the traveling circus performer is discovered, the small town of Cedar Valley, Colorado is rocked by secrets that have been buried for decades.

In the summer of 1985, young cousins Tommy and Andrew McKenzie disappeared. That same summer, a woman's body was found dumped on a riverbank. Neither mystery was ever solved. More recently, the mayor's son slipped off a cliff and vanished into the raging water below, there one minute and gone the next. The dead clown is simply the newest addition to Cedar Valley's tragic history:

When tragedy strikes a small town, it leaves a scar that never heals. Months and years may pass and the scar may fade, but it never goes away. It becomes part of the town, marking it as different, a permanent reminder of what may have been, what could have been.

Along with a partner she doesn't fully trust and a freshly minted recruit, a very pregnant Gemma must mine the town's past crimes in order to solve its most recent. There's always danger to be had when digging up old secrets in a small town, and the investigation will heap more misfortune on everyone attached to them before it's over.

Inherit the Bones is a super debut that will leave readers wanting more from Littlejohn's impressively diverse cast of characters (including a Native American deputy, a female medical examiner of Iranian descent and a Latino Chief), each presented with intriguing depth without distracting from the action. Littlejohn's prose deftly moves the investigation forward, yet is often laced with moments of insightful beauty:

Most of what remained of the posters were small corners and narrow strips of paper, the glue and tape pressed so hard to the telephone poles and storefront windows you could feel the panic and urgency with which they had been plastered up.

The story arcs grow perilously in number, and I was a bit concerned the whole was going to lose its boundaries and get muddled. Although a few plot lines still felt a bit extraneous, as if setting the stage for further installments in the series, Littlejohn did pull the mysteries together in fine fashion. This a group of characters I am anxious to revisit.

STREET SENSE: Debut mysteries are like mysteries inside mysteries. Is the author's writing style going to speak to me? Will the plot hold up substantively while keeping me interested? Will I want to invest in the characters? The answer to all of these questions in this instance are a resounding "Yes." Emily Littlejohn is an author that stays on my list.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  The poster quote above is actually my favorite, but this one is also a good'un (maybe simply because I hope it's true):

"The world is full of monsters. It always has been. For every monster, there are a hundred heroes. Mankind simply could not survive if the bad guys outnumbered the good guys; you know that, you live that truth every day in your chosen field."

COVER NERD SAYS: This was a rare instance where I didn't pick the book by its cover. I hadn't seen the cover when I received it, but I think it's one that would have caught my eye. There's not much unique about a person/woman standing in the woods (the woman running from behind is actually getting a little tiresome in cover land), but I like the lack of focus in the image that evokes movement--not just movement, but urgent or frantic movement. It's the kind of touch that can turn a simple picture of a person in the woods into something interesting, making me want to crack the cover and see what's inside.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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