Book Review: One of Us

I recently won through Goodreads, a copy of One of Us, by best selling author Tawni O’Dell. I am one who judges books by the cover. Shallow, I know. It was why I entered to win a copy in the first place. I read the synopsis and thought, this might be interesting. Might, being the key word here.download

Once I started reading it, I was worried I’d need a sheet of paper to write down who was who, and who was related to who, and create a family tree to keep everything in order. I did start a draft of that tree. However, I quickly learned that O’Dell does an amazing job f keeping characters straight in her writing. Each character is so distinct, and well drawn, the sheet of paper was not needed.

Dr. Sheridan “Danny” Doyle is a famous psychologist. He has written books and done well for himself after moving away from Lost Creek, a small coal mining town in the noweheresville of Pennsylvania. ¬†He receives word that his 96 year old grandfather, Tommy, is in a bad way. Taking time away from his practice, Danny returns to PA to help family.

Lost Creek is just shy of an inbred, close knit community. There was an infamous hanging that occurred in town long, long ago. A rebellious group of Irish miners were fed up with the poor wages, and harsh treatment the mine owner, Walker Dawes, dished out. They decided to take matters into their own hands, were caught, and hanged. The gallows were especially constructed for the spectacle, and Danny’s great-great grandfather, Prosperity, was one of those unfortunate enough to get caught and sentenced for his part in the crimes.

Photo2-ODellThe talk of the town centered around the gallows finally coming down. The property had been sold to a construction company interested in fracking the land, not for coal, but for fuel. People rarely liked to admit to believing in ghosts, but when a man is found dead by the gallows, everyone is certain the boys that hung had returned to haunt the town.

Scarlet Dawes is the rich and unstable great-great granddaughter of Walker. Her father still owns and runs the mines, and once he passes, Scarlet is confident that she will inherit the bulk of the Dawes fortune. Living in Paris, with a home in New York, Scarlet returns to Lost Creek after receiving a cryptic letter in the mail. If what is written is true it could jeopardize all that Scarlet has ever known, and will ever know. Unfortunately, that is unacceptable. Above it all, and despite his belief that she is guilty, she was never a bad mother.

Several more violent deaths occur. Danny and the town’s only detective, Rafe, investigate. Their dig for answers unearths more questions than truths. It seems that the killer won’t stop anytime soon. And it is possible that many lives are still in danger, including Danny’s, and his family’s.

While the surprise-twist comes toward the end of the book, I had figured out who was who early on. Maybe it was not meant to be a shocker. Regardless, I was more than engaged by this book. I was consumed. Tawni O’Dell is a powerful writer. Her narrative is fresh and harsh and funny and honest and raw. As I said above, the characters are so well-drawn, they become three dimensional people. I saw them in my head as clear as if I were watching them on a movie screen. There is a darkness to the story that lingers over Lost Creek like a perpetual coal-black cloud. There is a V.C. Andrews-ness to the style, and yet, it is nothing like any book written by Andrews.

Tawni O’Dell has impressed me. I am more than anxious to read her other books. Apparently, Back Roads was an Oprah Book Club selection, as well as a New York Times Bestseller. That seems like a good place to start. Don’t you think?

Phillip Tomasso
Author of Blood River and The Vaccination Trilogy

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