Thursday, April 24, 2008

Damnation Falls by Edward Wright

Publisher: Orion Books, 2007
ISBN: 978 0 7528 8580 3
Pages: 308

Opening sentence: All through my growing up, my father and I would tramp through the woods around our small Tennessee town.

Randall Wilkes, in disgrace after being fired from his Chicago newspaper, returns to his home town of Pilgrim’s Rest to take on the job of ghost writing the autobiography of his old school friend, and former state governor, Sonny McMahon. On the night he arrives at Sonny’s summer house just outside the town, Randall has an unexpected visit from Sonny’s mother, Faye. Now suffering from dementia, Faye makes some garbled comments about her dead husband and her son being in danger. Later that night with a storm raging, Randall woken by a scream, investigates and finds Faye murdered, hanging from a bridge over Damnation Falls. When some bones found in a field outside town are identified as one of his old girlfriends, Randall determines to find her killer.

This is a book about truth and lies, and the extent to which some people will go to protect their lies, and the sometimes devastating consequences of uncovering the truth. But mostly this is a book about families, and the ties that bind even the most dysfunctional. The Southern small town setting feels very realistic, with Wright depicting a South with a deep sense of history. The characters are all very believable, and the main characters particularly likeable. Told in the first person with an easy flowing style, Wright has created a complex, multi-layered story that carries the reader through to a gripping finale.

Edward Wright, a former journalist, has previously written three books set in 1940s Los Angeles featuring former B-movie cowboy star, John Ray Horn. Each has won an award, the Debut Dagger, the Shamus, and the Ellis Peters Historical Crime Award respectively. Damnation Falls is his first standalone.

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