Monday, August 18, 2014

Review: One of Us

Summary: From the New York Times bestselling author of Back Roads comes a fast-paced literary thriller about a forensic psychologist forced to face his own demons after discovering his small hometown terrorized by a serial killer.

Dr. Sheridan Doyle—a fastidiously groomed and TV-friendly forensic psychologist—is the go-to shrink for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office whenever a twisted killer’s mind eludes other experts. But beneath his Armani pinstripes, he’s still Danny Doyle, the awkward, terrified, bullied boy from a blue-collar mining family, plagued by panic attacks and haunted by the tragic death of his little sister and mental unraveling of his mother years ago.

Returning to a hometown grappling with its own ghosts, Danny finds a dead body at the infamous Lost Creek gallows where a band of rebellious Irish miners was once executed. Strangely, the body is connected to the wealthy family responsible for the miners' deaths. Teaming up with veteran detective Rafe, a father-like figure from his youth, Danny—in pursuit of a killer—comes dangerously close to startling truths about his family, his past, and himself.

In this masterfully told psychological thriller in the vein of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, the past and present collide to put Lost Creek’s long-lived ghosts to bed. -- Gallery

A few years ago, my sister and I traveled to State College, PA, for the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. It was also the weekend for BookFestPa. Naturally, I couldn't miss that so I dragged my sister to a few of the speakers. Fortunately, she didn't mind too much since one of the speakers was Tawni O'Dell. We both had read a few of Ms. O'Dell's novels and really enjoyed them. She tends to write stories that take place in the coal mining regions of PA, and they resonate with my sister and me because many of our relatives worked in coal mines and still live in those areas.

Ms. O'Dell's latest novel is a called ONE OF US and it's a bit of a departure from the other books I've read. While it still took place in a small coal mining town, it was more of a mystery/psychological suspense story. I found the book to be intriguing, if not a little disturbing at times; and I couldn't put it down. I actually received this book late last week and read it in a day!

ONE OF US begins when Sheridan "Danny" Doyle returns to his home town to visit his beloved grandfather after he falls ill to pneumonia. Danny couldn't wait to escape the small town when he left for college, and he has since found much professional success as a forensic psychologist. However, the scars from his childhood are still very much present beneath Danny's smooth exterior. He was abused by his alcoholic dad, teased mercilessly by other kids, lost his sister when his mother murdered her, and handled a mother with mental problems!

When Danny returns home, he finds a dead body at the Lost Creek gallows. The gallows are rumored to be haunted by a band of Irish miners who were executed there for challenging to mine's owner. Danny doesn't believe in ghosts; however, many of the townspeople are certain that the man was killed because of his involvement with tearing down the gallows. Danny and his surrogate father (and police chief) Rafe decide to investigate -- each in their own way; and Danny discovers some dark secrets from his family and his own past.

I really enjoyed ONE OF US! I'm certain that the setting was part of the reason, but I found this story to be so interesting. I loved the complexity of the characters, especially Danny; and I appreciated how Ms. O'Dell managed to include some pretty shocking twists in the story. I won't go so far as to say that I wasn't able to see one of the shockers (maybe I was meant to with a few of the clues?); however, I thought the story was tightly written and moved very well.

Once again, I think Ms. O'Dell nailed the atmosphere of a small coal-mining town. She brought it to life both in the present and the past, and she did an excellent job of showing the tensions between the owners and miners. Furthermore, she showed how tightly-knit (or maybe I should say small?) the community was. Everyone seemed to know everyone else's business... except for a few of the dark secrets.

I absolutely loved Danny and my heart went out to him. I was happy that he was able to "escape" Lost Creek and his sad past, but honestly, I knew he didn't really escape. He was such an interesting character from the profession he chose, to how he handled fame, to how he dealt with his mother... and father, and so on. He was obviously still very affected by his troubled past, and I liked how the author showed this in his character. In addition, I appreciated how he used his skills as a forensic psychologist to read people and eventually solve the crimes. What I really enjoyed the most though about his character is how he evolved through the novel. I'm sure that learning the secrets in his family's past helped give him some closure, but he really seem to grow as a man.

And finally, one of the things I most appreciated about this novel was how Ms. O'Dell tied in the Irish miners who were executed to the present story. The theme of ghosts and haunting ran throughout the story, and I liked that the myth behind these men grew kind of larger than life. However, it was how these men suffered at the hands of the owners that really demonstrated the class differences in these small coal mining towns. There is a part of the book that shows how these men made literally nothing (and sometimes less than nothing) after they paid their bills to the owners. It broke my heart to think that my relatives could have lived this way.

ONE OF US would make a terrific book club pick. I feel as if there are so many issues worth discussing. Fortunately, there is a reading guide available with fifteen questions along with some ideas for enhancing your book club experience. Some of the themes you might want to explore include parent/child relationships, abuse, alcoholism, mental illness, secrets, personality disorders, bullying, and class structure.

I loved ONE OF US and highly recommend it!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read. Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


Beth F said...

Wow, Danny had one hell of a family! This sounds like a winner of a book

bermudaonion said...

It didn't take you any time at all to read this book! It sounds terrific so I'm wondering why I've never read O'Dell's work before.