We meet him riding in a car down country roads, jittery with drug withdrawal, alongside a man and a woman who don’t think he knows they intend to kill him.But first, the trio plans to In Cold Blood an old couple at a lonely farm.
Tory Ingram, the addict, first stabs the old man at the door, and then his wife in the bedroom, remembering how she had brought him lemonade when he was working as a handyman on the farm.
Mary Maddox starts an ominous clock ticking on the first page of her new suspense novel, Hometown Boys. And it means that Kelly Durrell, her heroine from the excellent thriller Darkroom, is in for more trouble.
While burying the murdered couple, her aunt and uncle, Kelly unearths her own haunted past. Because the sexy abuser she dated in high school is the hollowed-out man who killed them.
Back in a small Illinois town where the gossips are eager to consider her somehow partially responsible for the murders, Kelly returns to an uneasy relationship with a mother who refuses to forgive her for some unstated but not unpunished crime, probably her survival. The mother is frozen in the hostility of grief over the death of Kelly’s younger sister. Even the fact that Kelly brings tea into her mother’s kitchen is a cause for mild reproach.
Add to that Kelly’s continuing economic marginalization. Out of work since the horrific events of the previous novel, Kelly fears losing her Boulder apartment, but is equally afraid that moving in with her police officer boyfriend may bruise their new and provisional relationship.
In 21st century America, no crime is so heinous that someone will not get on Facebook and publicly praise the criminal — a fact Maddox has observed and uses here. One of Troy’s lowlife friends is defending him on social media, and she’s also revealing embarrassing intimate facts about Kelly she learned from Troy.
Against her better judgment, Kelly finds herself being drawn into the penumbra of a small town that’s fraying around the edges.
In Morrison we see protracted, familiar shadows cast across the streets of a recognizable Midwestern town, where the years of lost economic opportunity and back-burner bitterness have curdled into drug addiction and crime.
Once again, Maddox sketches the sketchiness and marginality of contemporary American life in a forgotten rural community — a Dollar Tree world where nothing matters much any more, where pleasures, loyalties and lives prove fleeting.
“They pass a repair garage fronted by broken and oil-stained concrete, a store selling packing materials, a store advertising Batteries of Every Variety, a collapsing gas station with holes where the pumps used to be, a grade school with a cyclone fence hemming a cramped playground that contains monkey bars, a swing set and a slide pocked with rust. Jefferson Avenue reminds her of a vine with its leaves shriveled or wilting.”
Schemes surround the millions of dollars worth of farmland left by Kelly’s aunt and uncle. A suspicious death is quietly ignored by the authorities. And a storefront that’s a cover for a drug operation—the ironically named Trophies Unlimited—fits somewhere into this crepuscular picture.
The police are compromised. The murders mount. Like some unwanted and dangerous animal, the darkness has followed Kelly home.
The moments of brutality are balanced by the evocative clarity of Maddox’s description. A well-dressed woman at a rural funeral “flashes like bling in a dirt road.” Kelly’s childhood church “…feels empty, as though most of her memories have been moved into storage.”
Occasionally, Maddox even washes away the weariness and dirt of humanity for us, letting us sense the solid, enduring values still buried somewhere in the weary Midwestern land.
An Illinois two-lane highway “…aims straight and flat toward its vanishing point. Sun-soaked fields of corn and beans fan open toward the horizon. A windbreak of trees cuts a hard line between two fields. Bright cylinders of grain silos, triangle roofs atop rectangle farmhouses, and a blue expanse above — a landscape of geometry and sky.”
The mistrust mounts, the shadows lengthen and the reader is blindsided by a hard, sudden turn. The Illinois prairie has rarely seen this much suspense since North by Northwest.
— Dan Hagen, Odin’s Ravens