Author – Rod Reynolds
Published – Sept 2015
Genre – Crime fiction
From the first page of this dark thriller you’re transported to post-war America, specifically Texarkana (a town on the border of Texas and Arkansas) in 1946. The main protagonist is Charlie Yates, a big city journalist sent in disgrace to this small southern town. Ostensibly he’s been sent to investigate a spate of brutal attacks on young couples parked in ‘lovers lanes’ but in reality there’s not much interest for a New York paper in these deaths. Nevertheless Yates takes his job seriously – perhaps in the hope that he may do enough to warrant his return to the NY office and finds himself drawn into the story. His motivation is also partly due to Lizzie, the sister of the only person to survive the attacks. In Lizzie he sees a woman like his own wife (who has left him) and he figures that if he can help Lizzie then in some way he is atoning for his treatment of his wife.
As the story unfolds and Yates undertakes his own investigation he discovers that he has no one he can call on for support, not even his so-called colleagues at the newspaper office. The murders make for an oppressive atmosphere in the claustrophobic setting of this small town and as an outsider he has to take help wherever he can – even from mysterious anonymous sources. The police are positively obstructive and this is a time when they aren’t above a spot of brutality and corruption isn’t unheard of.
What’s unusual about Yates is that he’s a coward, albeit one with an unpredictable temper – which means that he gets himself into situations that he’s not prepared to handle. He could be one of those characters that readers don’t take to but the well realised characterisation means that Yates is very believable and while he’s not always easy to sympathise with he does generally have good intentions.
The plot seems quite straightforward in the early part of the book but as the story reaches its climax Reynolds weaves in all sorts of twists and turns. I thought I’d got the ‘whodunnit’ and I did but then I hadn’t (read it – it’ll become clear) and it certainly kept me turning the pages quickly!
I found the attention to historical detail was fascinating and Reynolds didn’t necessarily feel the need to explain every reference he made, as a reader it’s always nice to be credited with a bit of common sense. The choice of period is an interesting one – in the post-war setting the town is full of GIs who have only been back from the war a matter of months and Reynolds touches on the issues of how can these men just fit back into a ‘normal’ life. What I have since found out is that the book was inspired by real-life events known as the Moonlight Murders that actually took place in Texarkana in the early part of 1946 which I think adds an extra layer to the book.
This is a very confident debut with a terrific period setting and a dark and brooding atmosphere. Coincidentally Reynolds studied on the same course (Creative Writing (Crime Thriller Novels) MA at City University London) as David Young whose crime fiction debut I also loved. Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. You can see another point of view at For Winter Nights.