Saturday, January 18, 2020

CROSSROAD :: W.H. Cameron

A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

"For the second time in as many weeks, I cross the spine of Shatter Hill at midnight and spot fire at the crossroad below." Melisende Dulac had a difficult past before moving from the East Coast to the Oregon high desert, where she transports bodies for the funeral home run by her disappeared husband's aunt and uncle. Now her present is treacherously close to eclipsing it.

What she saw at the scene of the first crossroad fire put Mel at odds with numerous locals, including the sheriff's department. Her precarious situation is further jeopardized by what she finds at the second: multiple cars and bodies, a gun, a horse, a head, a newborn baby and a glimpse of a woman who might be the Shatter Hill Spirit. Guided by the voice of her beloved brother Fitz, who died 17 years ago, Mel fights back against forces that have put her, an outsider, in the crosshairs.

The plot of W.H. Cameron's Crossroad is a stellar foundation for all the splendid extras layered on top. The author splices in Mel's history at a pace that whets readers' appetite for more. But the true tour de force is Cameron's character work. Mel is exquisitely drawn, and Cameron insightfully cultivates a supporting cast that further defines her. Appealing in their own right, they help push past and present forward to a conclusion that is resoundingly satisfying. Crossroad is marked by dark humor, grace and seeds of connections that hopefully signal a path to more Melisende Dulac.

STREET SENSE: I love Bill Cameron's writing. His plots are always intriguing, but it's the thoughtfulness and character work that always knocks my socks off. He also puts sincere thought into his chapter titles, and I always appreciate the fun of feeling the penny drop as I read and figure it out. If you're a fan of character driven stories, try some of his work.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE: I grew up an orphan in my own home, a guest who had overstayed her welcome. There were days when all I wanted was to know if I existed--a question Cricket and Stedman would never answer. They'd forget to account for me at meals, to pick me up if I stayed after school. When they went out, I never knew when they'd return. I was nine the first time they left me an entire weekend. I ate cereal and read Katherine Paterson. 

A few short beauts in a book full of 'em:

"Desperation is forebear to many an unconsidered decision."

"You can't call yourself a mortician till you've slept in a casket."

People exhaust me. It's probably why I prefer working with the dead.

COVER NERD SAYS: Bill's books have some of my favorite covers and this one is no different. Usually dark and mysterious with a flash of danger. Fire, blood, some dangerous splash of what lies within. On this one, I love how the starry sky plays with the title font. Super well done.

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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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