End Date: February 28th
Author: Robert Dugoni
Genre: Suspense / Thriller
Pages: 416 (paperback)
Selected By: Lady Esbe
“Tracy Crosswhite has spent twenty years questioning the facts surrounding her sister Sarah’s disappearance and the murder trial that followed. She doesn’t believe that Edmund House – a convicted rapist and the man condemned for Sarah’s murder – is the guilty party. Motivated by the opportunity to obtain real justice, Tracy became a homicide detective with the Seattle PD and dedicated her life to tracking down killers.
“When Sarah’s remains are finally discovered near their hometown in the northern Cascade mountains of Washington State, Tracy is determined to get the answers she’s been seeking. As she searches for the real killer, she unearths dark, long-kept secrets that will forever change her relationship to her past – and open the door to deadly danger.” – from the Amazon summary.
This is my first read for Robert Dugoni and I gotta say I was impressed. Ok, mostly impressed. I found this to be a fast moving yet comprehensive legal thriller. He has a solid plot, likeable, yet not one dimensional characters, and gave solid procedural law explanations without boring you to tears or making it more arduous than necessary. I can definitely appreciate the style, it is almost as if he wrote it with having it on screen in mind. Certain scenes leap off the page and I could completely envision the exchanges between the characters. Dugoni moves masterfully between past and present, tying together events between the two and providing us with a comprehensive view of what has transpired to bring us to where we are in the novel.
Tracy and younger sister, Sarah are natives of a quaint little town named Cedar Grove, WA. It’s a close-knit community where everyone knows one another and subsequently looks out for one another. We are introduced to the young ladies as having completed a shooting competition and that Sarah threw the competition to keep Tracy’s spirits up for the impending proposal of her boyfriend, Ben that evening. Tracy reluctantly parts ways with Sarah at the competition, with a little nagging voice saying she shouldn’t let her sister drive home alone from Olympia. (Definitely one of the scenes I could see unfolding on a screen). Unfortunately, this is the last time she will see her sister alive. Edmund House is arrested and convicted on largely circumstantial evidence that leaves Tracy at odds with the outcome and searching for answers. Tracy’s investigation leads to conspiracies, secrets and the truth coming to the light.
Sarah is our victim. In the flashbacks we find her to be juvenile, playful and a bit of lovable troublemaker. However, she is beloved by the whole town and especially her sister Tracy. Her disappearance and death shakes up the town and impacts most of the characters within the novel. While she is not to blame for her death, I was more irritated with her not following a simple directive that could have saved her life. Tracy in no uncertain terms advised Sarah to not use the county road. Was it the arrogance of youth or just the desire to exercise a modicum of control that caused Sarah to do exactly what she was advised against? It could not be helped that the vehicle was sabotaged , but being on the busy highway would have less likely resulted in her being abducted. But alas, we do need a reason to drive the protagonist forward. While Sarah was likeable, she was also no angel. Practical jokes, specifically those that scare people are her specialty made me think that, maybe, just maybe, her death is the result of having played a practical joke on the wrong person.
I found Tracy to be a believable character. She is racked with guilt over leaving her younger sister unattended and her resulting death. Her life since then has been centered on finding the truth to bring true justice for her sister’s death. She’s hardworking, dedicated, and tenacious without being arrogant. Dugoni hit a perfect balance of strength and vulnerability with Tracy. While she is not ultimately responsible for her sister’s death, she cannot help but feel that she failed her parents and Sarah by not keeping her safe. I think Dugoni did a good job in showing that she has the intellect and passion to get things done without cow towing to authority. She follows where the evidence leads her and is willing to put herself out there even if the result may not be popular. I admired her strength and determination to follow the investigation no matter where it went to get some true resolution to her sister’s murder. I like that her intent was not to be swooning over any and all men within her general vicinity, but a promising relationship evolved slowly as it should have.
While Tracy has a myriad of characters who generally like to cause her grief, we are led to believe that the biggest antagonist she faces is Sheriff Roy Calloway. Roy Calloway is the lead investigator into the Sarah’s death. He’s the fatherly figure who, attempts to deter Tracy at every turn. He even hits below the belt by calling in an anonymous tip to an unethical reporter who lives to sensationalize the story before getting the truth. While Roy is overtly threatening throughout the novel, his reasons become clear by the end and you cannot be angry with him for the actions he took. However, you can question his general execution of his plan to keep Tracy “safe” from the truth and possibly think of a better way to appease her curiosity and not escalate her suspicions more than what he did. Unfortunately, his “way” seems very “good ole boy” network and unfortunately counter-intuitive.
We are also introduced to a childhood friend, Dan. Dan was loveable and you are shown the softer and more considerate side of Sarah, when she purchases him a tire for his bike with the money she had been hoarding from their movie excursions. Dan moved away around the time of Sarah’s disappearance with his family to California and he misses much of the hoopla. Dan moves to the East for college, law school and subsequently a successful law practice and a failed marriage. Having seemingly conquered his trials in Boston, Dan ventures home to regroup and reinvent himself. His law practice is small, but suits his purposes. He is a supportive shoulder for Tracy, attending Sarah’s memorial service and willingly assists her to prove that Edmund House was railroaded. He is also the inevitable love interest, but it’s a slow growing relationship that I can appreciate. I also appreciate that he isn’t intimidated by Calloway’s overt threats. In fact, he takes them in stride and takes precautions to prevent an escalation with Calloway and his cohorts. While he’s not necessarily the manliest of men, he’s definitely a go to guy who is willing to put himself on the line for Tracy, professionally and personally.
Edmund House is the epitome of a sociopath. He’s charming in his own way, yet, there is that special something that puts you off. He acts for his pleasure and that is the simple enough. While I do not agree with the method for which he is incarcerated, but it begs the question, “If we know you are guilty of something, should you be found guilty for the sake of being guilty, even if it not’s that particular crime?” While legally speaking, I cannot advocate that. However, as a person, I could really give a crap why he’s in jail as long as he’s not a menace to our society. It is fair that he should receive a new trial because the manner in which he was convicted flies in the face of all that this country stands for. However, he’s just so evil, how can you not want him under the jail?
Now my biggest concern with this novel was the last 15% of it. It was brilliantly executed up until this point. Now, that Edmund was released from prison awaiting a new trial, I find it hard to believe that he was able to execute a series of actions including, accosting one of the co-conspirators, making it up the mountain (with what transportation, we still don’t know), attacking another co-conspirator, digging out the mine entrance, laying a trap for Tracy and anyone else who may happen upon the situation in a MATTER OF HOURS of being released in the MIDST OF A BLIZZARD. This could have been better executed. It would be much more believable if it happened say within a few weeks of his release and he was able to deal with those who wronged him efficiently. At this point Dugoni lost me. To add to the issue of this rush to the finish, the pat resolution was just that, too much of a neat little little bow to wrap up all the issues that occurred during the book. While I appreciate all is resolved, I just feel like Dugoni got tired and just gave in to a simple solution to all that was occurring.
All in all, I enjoyed the book. I only wish that the ending could have been as artfully done as the rest of the novel. Again, Grisham could learn a thing or two from Dugoni for how a legal thriller should read. I’ll likely add him to the list of authors that I would give another shot and cannot bring myself to mark this down to 3 cups for just the small portion of the book that I feel could have been better executed.
With Which Character Did You Most Identify: Tracy and Dan.
Lady Esbe read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
Well, this one is definitely intense. In fact, I had to write my review on February 3rd, because, after having begun it on the first day of the month, I had it finished by the second night – in fact, I made it through 85% of the friggin’ thing by the end of the first day! I just had to know what happened next, had to know who could have committed this murder… and why… and how would Tracy handle the truth once she had it?!
Overall, Dugoni does an excellent job keeping this train rolling. The story progresses rapidly (until the end – more on that in a mo’), characters are fleshed out and quickly made familiar to the reader, and the tale itself isn’t sacrificed on the altar of technicalities and minutiae.
My absolute favorite thing about this entire novel is the moral and ethical questions it raises which hover like storm clouds over half of the story: How should we treat people who have proven themselves to be a danger to others but who, though not for lack of trying, haven’t actually managed to kill someone yet? And that’s the operative word there – yet. It’s a huge part of this novel, and it’s nearly impossible to get through this story without asking yourself where you stand on that issue.
Tracy is certainly one of the better female protagonists I’ve read in a while, though she does have one big moment of, “What the hell are you doing?!” near the end that threw me for a loop. To keep from giving too much away, I will say that while I understand her desperation and need to act swiftly – to have come so far only to possibly lose the lead she believed she had would have been something for which she probably could never have forgiven herself – her sudden explosion from cool, methodical, rational Detective Crosswhite to spontaneous, by-the-seat-of-her-pants Sister Tracy was fairly out in left field for this character. But at no point was an entire character (or cast of characters) devoted simply to reiterating how badass Tracy Crosswhite is as a human being, a warrior-woman, or an officer of the law, which is quite refreshing in this sort of novel; instead, Tracy is shown to be a competent detective, a dedicated sister, a loyal friend, a passionate human being, a devoted daughter, and the sort of person you would want on your side in a fight.
I also want to give Dugoni props: he has given women more credit than most of the female authors I’ve read recently: romance is not her primary objective, she is obviously intelligent enough to handle herself, she doesn’t come unglued at every turn, and she doesn’t spend an inordinate amount of time weeping and whining over how unfair life can be. A lot of novels of this type tend to spend an unnecessary amount of time focusing on the fact that the protagonist is a woman in a field usually dominated by men, and I tend to see that as a bit of an insult – as if women should get a blue ribbon simply for being as good as men in the same jobs. Dugoni gives his protagonist a refreshing bit of equality; focus is not on her gender but on her abilities – the same as it would have been had this book’s protagonist been a Thomas rather than a Tracy.
Personally, I really like Dan. He is a great friend, and he loves his “best security system in town,” which is always a win for me. He is a great blend of loyalty, light humor, compassion, and talent. I understood him the best, as well – his initial motivation was simple enough, but it didn’t take long for him to realize there was a really valid issue at hand that he actually had the expertise to handle; at that point, he wasted no time slipping on his Counselor Hat and taking the reins, putting himself and his “security system” in danger for the sake of, not just a friend, but also what’s Right. Without Dan’s easy and natural talent, the remainder of the book after his appearance really wouldn’t have been possible.
I liked the back-and-forth between Tracy’s life in Seattle versus the small town of Cedar Grove; I feel Dugoni did a good job of showing us both versions of Tracy’s world – the small town is more personal, the case is, of course, completely personal, the people all know each other and close ranks against “intruders,” and the death of a young girl still haunts them all two decades after the fact… while the city is more fast-paced, with people flitting in and out, rushing about, with files piled high and the case of a girl newly-murdered is tossed to the side when it’s clear that the “failure” of the detectives involved to solve it within the first forty-eight might reflect on the brass’s otherwise flawless record.
I don’t really want to speak too much on any of the other characters, as I feel to do so might give away a lot of the plot that makes this such an intense read. They are all well-written, and everyone has their own motives for what they have done and what they will do throughout the novel; at one point, I sent Esbe a furious text telling her that her selection for the month had left me with a hot ball of fury in my throat for a majority of the evening. Everyone has their own motivation for what they do, and, as in real life, everyone thinks they’re doing and have done the right thing. The twist at the end was almost entirely unexpected and quite interesting, as well.
I’m not a big fan of guns, so a lot of the “you can never start ‘em shootin’ early enough” stuff was not my cup of tea, but I can’t really hold that against the story; Tracy is from a small town that values those sorts of skills, and her profession requires her to be proficient in their use. My only real complaint with My Sister’s Grave is the last 20% or so. I do have to agree with Esbe that the timeline of events which transpire throughout the climax just doesn’t quite mesh. The explanations of how things were done as they were in the past in order to provide our current cast of characters with a fighting chance in the here and now was a bit fantastical for me; the entire novel is about facts – testimony, witnesses, evidence – and the brief dunk it takes into the “help-from-beyond” end of the pool left me feeling a wee bit incomplete. But my main issue with that last 20% is that it just… kept… going. Resolution came, then went, then had an encore, and right when it seemed to finally be over, updates were provided for the major players… and even then, the status of the main characters received another follow-up. The one thing I can say about this tactic, though, is that Dugoni certainly made sure to tie up the loose ends.
This is an excellent read and one I would certainly recommend to those of you who love thrillers and strong female leads. Excellent pick, Esbe!
With Which Character Did You Most Identify: Dan O’Leary. He wasn’t looking to rock the boat with quite as much gusto as Tracy, but once he had made the decision to help out his friend, he was all-in. Plus, he loves animals, and what’s not to love about a guy like that? 😉
Elle read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
I liked this book very much; it kept me completely enthralled throughout, and I was 100% vested in the characters and the outcome. The story itself went by very quickly, and the twists and turns it took along the way were entirely unexpected and sometimes truly shocking.
I have to admit that, though readers only spend a small amount of time with her, I liked Sarah the most out of all of the characters; it was immediately obviously that she was strong, intelligent, and had a truly good heart.
My main complaint actually wasn’t in the sudden change of pace with the ending, as it was with the other Ladies; rather, I felt it was just silly that no one involved in the conspiracy that unfolds throughout the novel ever thought to simply tell Tracy what was going on. Of course, I realize that if they had, there would have been no story, and we’d have been robbed of this page-turner for our February read, so it works out in the end… but their reasoning for maintaining their silence still seemed a little flimsy to me.
I would definitely recommend this to others.
With Which Character Did You Most Identify: Tracy. I like to investigate and work out puzzles, but I can’t say I empathized entirely with her emotional reactions.
BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
The Divine Ms. Em:
I very much enjoyed this book. The main character Tracy Crosswhite grew up in the small town of Cedar Grove and had a rather charming childhood with a happy family including her baby sister. Then tragedy hit on the night she became engaged and was happily looking forward to her future. Her parents were in Hawaii for their 25th wedding anniversary and she and her teen age sister had remained at home for a shooting competition. Tracy was a school teacher by this time and Sarah her younger sister still lived at home. First of all, her sister threw the competition so that Tracy would be happy when her boyfriend popped the question. Tracy went with her boyfriend, leaving her sister to drive home by herself. Tracy never saw her alive again.
The tragedy basically tore her family apart. Her parents, especially her father never recovered. Tracy left her job as a Science teacher at the local high school and eventually became a police detective in Seattle. The local Sheriff eventually found evidence against a local ex-con Edmund House and he was convicted of her murder. She spent years compiling information, reports and files about case as she was never convinced that there wasn’t something wrong with the case. The evidence and some of the testimony against Edmund House did not add up.
Then they discovered a body and found evidence that it was Sarah. They also discovered that some of the evidence at House’s trial appeared to have been planted. Tracy went back to Cedar Grove to try and find out the truth. She ran into a childhood friend that had become a local attorney. She convinced him to represent Edmund House in overturning his conviction and discovering the truth.
The story had several turns and twists from there, keeping you guessing nearly to the end. We not only find out about the evidence and how it was indeed planted, but how the Sheriff was telling the truth and not the crooked local Sheriff you thought he was through most of the story. There, of course was a love interest with the childhood friend and a twist at the end that seemed a little contrived. It went on a little long at the end but I did really enjoy this book.
With Which Character Did You Most Identify: No one.
Ms. Em read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.