by Erica Wright
eARC, 320 pg.
Read: October 16, 2019
Reading this book made me think of that overused 90’s-era sitcom line: Who are you, and what have you done with Erica Wright? Famous in Cedarville and its protagonist, Samson Delaware are so far removed from Kat Stone and her world, it’s hard to believe they come from the same mind. That said, as much as I want to see more of Kat Stone, if Wright’s going to give us more like this? I won’t complain too loudly.
I’m getting ahead of myself, we should start with the beginning when Samson Delaware joins some fellow citizens of Cedarville, TN to carry the body of Barbara Lace from her home. Lace left her small town home at a young age to pursue fame and fortune in Hollywood. She found it, too—she wasn’t a superstar, she didn’t reach the heights of fame or craft; but she was someone that people all over the country knew. And the only person from Cedarville that anyone not from the area knew was alive. After decades in California, she retired from film and television and basically became a recluse.
Delaware is a carpenter and probably the area’s antiques expert. He appraises pieces, advises buyers, in addition to buying and restoring pieces to sell. While in Lace’s home, he can’t help himself from looking around more than he ought. While it’s nowhere near his expertise, something doesn’t seem right about the scene to him, and he starts to think that Lace didn’t die peacefully in her sleep.
A few days later, Lace’s personal assistant is murdered (no ambiguity about that one), leading Delaware to step up his unofficial investigation—which soon becomes official, as the local authority (note the singular, Cedarville is just that small) and State investigators are both stymied. The sheriff is desperate enough to grant official status to anyone who can help.
Looking into Lace’s murder takes Delaware on a journey through time and space—the key to it has to be in Lace’s past (she saw so few people recently, it has to be in the past). And Lace’s past is in Los Angeles, so Delaware heads out to L.A. to do some footwork and talk to those who knew the actress during her heyday (and after it, too).
Delaware’s own investigation pulls double duty—not only will it hopefully bring the community some answers about their favorite daughter, but it also distracts him from the all-consuming grief following his wife’s death. More than once, he has to wrestle with the question of whether he’s pursuing justice for justice’s sake or if it’s because it helps him not deal with his wife’s death.
As its protagonist looks into a by-gone era of film, the novel takes on the feel and atmosphere of that era while retaining a feeling of fresh and contemporary. Don’t ask me how Wright does that, but it’s great to see it done. Beyond that, there’s a depth to the emotion and characters that you don’t see every day. It’d be easy to argue that Delaware coming to grips (in whatever way he does) to his current state, how he got there and where he’s going is more important to the novel than showing what happened to Lace and her assistant (it’d be easy to argue against it, too, but that’s my point).
I’m not doing a good job describing how different this book comes across—not just from Wright’s previous work, but from most of what’s out there in the genre at the moment. Hopefully, others can articulate it—I’m confident any reader will feel what I’m getting at.
There were two distinct “What the —!?!” moments (there are a few more surprises, but two that you won’t forget soon). One of which, technically, is the result of Wright cheating. But it’s such a cool development and Wright reveals it so deftly that I couldn’t complain. The other one was completely honest and caught me completely flat-footed. Far from clearing everything up, both of these added layers and complexity to this already intricate plot.
A complex mystery, rich characters (I don’t have time to talk about Lace’s long-time agent or the people of Cedarville), a nostalgic yet timely feeling novel that looks to Hollywood’s glamorous past and the very human, very real present. Wright knocks this one out of the park and will earn herself some new fans with this one.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Polis Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post—thanks to both for this.