MORE GREAT READS FOR SEPTEMBER, 2014
What Dies in Summer, by Tom Wright
Jim and Lee Ann are cousins, cared for by their redoubtable Grandmother in Dallas, Texas. Jim arrived at his Gram’s place first after his mother neglected to protect him from her brutal lover Jack. Lee Ann arrived a short time later, traumatised and silent, her only comfort her little dog Jazzy. Lee Ann’s mum was also less than protective of her daughter; her new husband showed more than the usual affection for her little girl, and it is to her lasting shame that she refuses to acknowledge his guilt, happy to pretend that her daughter is living with Gram on ‘a little visit’ rather than admitting that the child is too terrified to stay with her and her pervert husband any longer.
Tom Wright, a practising psychotherapist, has chosen in his debut novel to write of the myriad abuses that people perpetrate against the most vulnerable, and those they should love most. The sin of intentional ignorance is just as heinous as that of the physical act of cruelty. “I didn’t know it was happening!’ is no excuse when society – in this case, Gram - is left to clean up the mess.
Gram does a good job. She offers security, affection and routine for two damaged little souls and Jim and Lee Ann (she prefers to be called LA) respond to unaccustomed normality in their lives; they make friends, do well academically and Jim even starts to take an interest in girls, most particularly Diana, LA’s best friend. Worryingly, LA doesn’t improve at the same rate: she has problems controlling her anger and has been threatened with suspension from school more than once for attacking boys who approached her too quickly.
Jim knows better than to come up on her from behind; he knows all her phobias and fears, or at least as many as she will reveal outside her visits to the psychologist; therefore they are good companions for each other, their shared experiences creating a bond that proves to be unbreakable.
Especially when they find the mutilated body of a young girl in the long grass not far from the railway lines.
It is not long before more bodies are found, and previous unsolved murders show distressing similarities to the latest atrocities: Jim and LA feel they are living a terrible waking dream, especially when LA hears of unpublished information about one of the murders, information that bears an awful resemblance to what has happened to her in the past. In a very short time they realise that up until now, the killer has just been practising: LA will be his Star victim.
Mr. Wright has written a tightly plotted, suspenseful and ruthlessly honest novel of the frailties and failings of human nature. No-one with such a day job would know better than he the cause and effect of the terrible damage visited upon the most innocent: nevertheless, despite its harrowing themes this is a tender and uplifting story of (dare I say it!) triumph over adversity and the power of family love – even though the family in this case is guilty of big sins. Highly recommended.
Blackbird, by Tom Wright
Jim and LA return as the main protagonists in Mr Wright’s second novel, set in Texarkana; Jim is a respected police lieutenant whose job has consumed him to the point of failing an ultimatum from his wife and daughters: ‘continue endangering your life and we’ll leave you’. He is now living alone, and hating every minute of his solitude – but what can he do? His department needs his skills now more than ever, for a woman has been found nailed to a tree just out of town: she has been crucified in the ancient biblical manner, and when she is identified as Jewish Psychologist Debra Gold, racism and hate crimes rear their ugly heads.
It is not long before Jim and his team is pretty much bushed by leads that go nowhere, despite eventual revelations that Ms Gold was heartily disliked by colleagues and ‘friends’ alike – in short, there are few who mourn her passing. Which logically means that there is a wealth of suspects; instead, two more murders occur of the very suspects Jim is investigating.
Enter LA, now a respected Psychologist who has come to Texarkana to check up on Jim’s stress levels; she has arranged to have time off from her practice to assist with the case – and with his personal problems: Jim and his family are the people she most loves in the world and she hopes that she can help him to heal the rift in his life.
And that is where I started to be disappointed in this book: the time frame is too long between the end of Book One when Jim and LA were teenagers and the action of Book Two, where they have both now reached their fortieth decade: Mr Wright glosses over or omits entirely characters who played a very big role in their development to adults – instead he brings in new characters as strong influences in Jim’s past which cause the reader to spend too much time trying to work out what happened when, and with whom – i.e when, precisely, does Jim decide to join the police force?
LA fares no better: after her horrific childhood she descends into alcoholism, but eventually cleans up her act to have a successful career. She drinks lots of sodas and iced tea. No boyfriend, though. As far as one can tell. In other words, ‘Blackbird’ should be Book Three in Jim and LA’s story, not Book Two.
And I have to say that Jim and LA also disappoint me as characters. They are no longer likeable. LA and her psychological evaluations (she’s ALWAYS right!) seem to be the perfect alter ego for Mr Wright to display his own huge psychological expertise, and Jim, despite his marvellously deductive mind comes across as a self-pitying ditherer.
And I figured out a major clue several chapters before HE did, so what does that tell you about him. A? A? He can always consult me – for a fee.