Long Shadows.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic

A review of two recently published crime novels, both of which deal with the long shadows cast by past events.

There is saying that old sins cast long shadows, that is surely something with which the narrators of the two novels under review here would agree. Both books deal with the fallout from long suppressed family secrets that have devastating consequences when they are eventually, literally in one case, unearthed.


As Lucy Harper the narrator of To Tell You The Truth (Arrow) by Gilly MacMillan says in the story anyone tells about themself ‘there are facts and then there is the truth’, when the two collide things can get messy. Not least since as a writer of thrillers its Lucy’s job to play fast and loose with what is really going on, spinning plots that keep her readers guessing to the last page. A talent she has honed through a lifetime of telling stories to the police, her parents and herself about what happened on the night her younger brother disappeared. Now, just as Lucy has built a successful career and a good marriage both look like they are about to unravel, her husband has started acting like a man keeping secrets of his own and when he too goes missing her world implodes.


For Berkley based Deputy Coroner Clay Edison in Lost Souls (Arrow) by father and son writing team Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman the problem isn’t a child who goes missing, its one, or rather the skeletal remains of one, that turn up after fifty years buried under a vacant lot in Berkley turned into an unofficial park by the hippies who made the area famous. When a man comes forward claiming the remains could be those of his sister Edison is at the centre of a case that could stir up secrets someone is willing to kill to keep hidden. Matters aren’t made easier by a conflict between developers and the community that sees the various city law enforcement agencies passing the case around like a hot potato nobody wants to handle.


Both these books use the crime genre to look at social and personal issues with insight and sensitivity. These include the pernicious nature of social media, the tensions created by gentrification and the ability of families to pass on hurt from one generation to the next. This is done with a lightness of touch that compromises neither their seriousness nor their ability to function as thrillers.


In To Tell You The Truth Gilly MacMillan delivers an expertly crafted slice of suburban suspense narrated by a central character who resembles a Hitchcock heroine with more agency and just as many personal hang-ups. The question of whether she is being gaslit by her perfidious husband or her own literary creation is something the author plays with in a way that demonstrates delightfully unsettling ambiguity. In doing so she makes use of the way ‘fan fiction’ and message boards devoted to a popular character can become a freak show of neuroses and resentments that quickly get out of hand.


MacMillan makes excellent use of her setting in the sort of upscale suburban enclave where the residents hide their own activities behind tall hedges and yet are at the same time obsessed with what their neighbours are up to. A very British eccentricity that has a propensity to tip over into madness at the best of times, for Lucy as the world she has carefully constructed collapses its doesn’t so much turn dark; as positively stygian.


The Californian suburb of Berkley described by the Kellermans in Lost Souls aspires to be an upscale community too, although for a different constituency. In this instance for hipster creative types who want to cash in on its shabby chic as the one-time headquarters of the counterculture. The discovery of a child’s skeleton buried on the planned site for a luxury development pits a university eager to cash in and developers running on tight margins against entitled millennials who don’t really know what it is they’re against; just that they’re really, really against it.


Tasked with sorting out the resulting mess Deputy Coroner Clay Edison has enough problems of his own as a new father with a child who won’t sleep and a marriage running on empty. He tells his story with a tired stoicism and belief in doing the right thing that refuses to be killed off by cynicism that reminded this reader of another down at heel gumshoe who went down the mean streets of the sunshine state, although the bottle in his office most likely contains baby formula.


The investigation that unfolds, as any good procedural should be, is a story about who did what to whom, like the very best it also concerns itself with why and the resulting consequences. What is revealed is a very human story of idealism running full force into reality and the chaos a bad childhood can wreak on the rest of an individual’s life. The American Dream and the hippy alternative that reacted against it both emerge looking like nightmares.


Both these novels use the tricks and tropes of the thriller to look at social and psychological issues that can be found, in some form, in most lives, if not, you’d hope presenting so dramatically.


To Tell You The Truth Lost Souls

Gilly MacMillanJonathan & Jesse Kellerman


Submitted: April 13, 2021

© Copyright 2022 A W Colclough. All rights reserved.

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