As I started to read this I found my self subconsciously reading it in a southern American drawl. It seemed to fit and I have to say it lasted for as long as it took me to read this enthralling second novel from Chris Whitaker. And that wasn't for long for I struggled to put this book down once I had begun.
Bible Belt America. Small town, so beautifully and ironically, called Grace. A succession of missing girls. A palpable atmosphere of slow burning tensions and historical grievances between the inhabitants of this place literally living beneath a cloud. All the backdrop for a tight, complex plot, more dark and cerebral than Tall Oaks but none the less compelling.
Parallels between the two novels can de drawn thematically and between the characters. It is as if Whitaker has created a cast he doesn't wish to let go of. And whilst that can sometimes render a narrative formulaic and contrived it doesn't here. For me it showed a writer developing his art.
I believe the strength of Whitaker's writing comes from his ability to create characters who drive the novel forwards. Many of his characters are damaged people who forge bonds, sometimes unwillingly and who struggle to make something of their lives. All generations feature but Whitaker draws them all with the same depth that allows them to stand out from the page and draw us along with their stories. We care about them, we care what happens to them. We want justice for them where it is required. Tall Oaks had some laugh out loud moments and whilst there is some black humour here it is not as much to the forefront and rightly so. This is a darker, more chilling tale.
We are led down many different paths and fed many red herrings before we are allowed to meet the real perpetrator. And there are no punches pulled. Don't expect a sweetly, saccharin redemption as a conclusion. You won't get it.
The real shock for me though was to discover that Chris Whitaker isn't alive and well and living In Alabama. No, he is a British writer living in Hertfordshire! So, y'all, reckon you better go get some of this here Chris Whitaker cause he's the real McCoy.