Libby Day, 31, is encouraged to examine whether her brother Ben is guilty of killing their mother Patty and two of their sisters. She testified that she saw her 15-year-old brother commit the crimes but she was only 7 years old when the murders occurred. She goes to visit her brother in prison, after refusing any previous contact with him since 1985, and comes away not convinced of his innocence but open at least to considering it. She sets out to visit everyone involved in the case who might have information.
The book has alternating narration. Libby’s story is set in the present and is narrated in the first-person; Ben and Patty’s stories are flashbacks to the day of the murder and are narrated in the third-person.
Libby is not a likeable person; on the first page she admits, “I was not a lovable child, and I’d grown into a deeply unlovable adult. Draw a picture of my soul, and it’d be a scribble with fangs” (1). She describes herself as feral and begins her narration by stating, “I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ” (1). She is lazy, angry, and manipulative and an obsessive thief – clearly a damaged person. In the end the reader comes to at least understand why she is as she is, and may even admire her knowledge of self.
There is a great deal of suspense. Some is created by Libby getting closer to learning the truth; more is created in reading about Patty and Ben’s activities as the time of the killings approaches. Often a chapter ends with a cliff-hanging revelation.
The ending is a surprise, but clues are given early on, so the reader does not feel cheated. The problem I have is with the motivation of some of the characters. There is a very unique motive for murder – which I didn’t find convincing because it is unlikely the Day family would possess the necessary pre-requisite. The motivation of one minor character who serves as a catalyst for some of the events is not satisfactorily explained. Also, Ben’s girlfriend remains an enigma and her relationship with Ben left me puzzled. What was in it for her? In fact, most of her relationships are strange.
The book is more than a mystery. It examines how children can cause “something to happen, something that got bigger than they were.” The portrayal of children and their motivations is very realistic. Children do lie and exaggerate to please adults or to get attention and are subject to peer pressure – and this is not necessarily a description of Libby since the actions and statements of several children in the novel impact others as well as themselves.
The novel is a compelling read; the reader will find him/herself drawn in quickly. Parts are reminiscent of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, but it is a thriller well worth reading.