Cara Buckley
December 2012, Women's Fiction
Bantam, $15.00, 400 pages, Amazon ASIN 0440246059

Grade: C-
Sensuality: Subtle

The song from White Christmas tells us:

Sisters, sisters There were never such devoted sisters, Never had to have a chaperone, No sir, I'm there to keep my eye on her
That is certainly true of the oldest sister in this story: She was a caregiver who kept an eye on her younger sibling. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always help when someone is determined to go down wrong paths.

Dana and Julie have always been close. Julie has after all, practically raised Dana since their father disappeared and their mother has had to work long hours just to make ends meet. Then their mother dies and Julie finds herself a full time parent at a young age. She accepts the responsibility and seems to be doing a bang up job of it until the day Dana turns up pregnant. By the time Julie knows it is too late for an abortion. The two leave their small town and rent an apartment in another area where Dana gives birth under Julie’s name. That is one of the last times Dana sees her sister alive.

When Dana receives a call many years later from her teenaged niece Peyton she knows she has to return to their home town of Black Bear, Minnesota. Julie is sick and needs a kidney donor. Dana heads home only to arrive too late. She determines to stay and help Julie’s family through the funeral and the rough weeks ahead, knowing that she will have to return to her own life sometime soon. Scary things await her there, too.

Dana demolishes buildings for a living. She is part owner of a company with a man whom she feels doesn’t carry his weight. The novel begins with a job that sees Dana as primary for the first time. She is excited to push the button but when the dust clears a body is found in the debris. The stuff really hits the fan and a police investigation begins which places their struggling business deeply in the red.

Dana, understandably, feels a bit pulled by all that is going on. On the one hand, she wants to stay and take care of Julie’s family. It is what Julie would have done were their positions reversed. On the other hand, Dana needs to be in Chicago dealing with the business problems their company is facing. Then she finds Julie’s notebook and her life takes yet another drastic turn.

Julie’s kidney disease had no known cause. Julie had found that a percentage of other people in town had the same situation. The percentage is slightly higher than average and Julie, a nurse, had been pursuing any possibilities she felt might be behind it. Dana determines to make this quest her own and begins to look at the town with new eyes, convinced that something in the area is killing the residents.

Her search will reveal secrets long left hidden, open wounds which have just begun to heal, and send one character spiraling down a dark and dangerous road.

The novel bounces between Dana and Peyton’s point of view. That’s unfortunate because I found myself disliking both characters intensely. At one point in the book, Dana defends herself to another character by saying, “I didn’t think.” He answers, correctly I might add, that she never does. Dana is impetuous. She also never sees life quite clearly. An example of this is her work. At one point she finds out the truth regarding the partner who “doesn’t do his share.” I wasn’t impressed that she needed to have it spelled out. She makes many, many mistakes in dealing with the people around her. But her behavior surrounding her own pregnancy and the selfish decisions she made at that time are what really had me writing her off as nothing but a self-centered witch.

Peyton is a young woman who seems to think she is at the center of the world. What she does towards the end of the novel is mind blowing in its cruelty.

The novel is layered so that all the secrets are slowly revealed towards the end. That sort of ties my hands in letting you know much about the plot beyond what I have already said. I will add that nothing in the book was surprising. It was like a chess game in which you know every move that will be made long before it is made. It was just extremely predictable.

I am always sensitive to how a novel treats alcoholism. Here the character who is alcoholic is teetering on the edge of falling off the wagon again. I came away uneasy with how everything was handled but unable to pin point why. I will say that the response given to his taking up drinking once more leaned toward passive as opposed to proactive.

Ultimately, the author did a good job of getting me interested in the mystery and a very bad job of getting me invested in the characters. Due to the predictable nature of the culprit and the nasty nature of the two leads I would recommend giving this one a pass.

-- Maggie Boyd

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