The Orphan’s Guilt – Archer Mayor

This novel starts with a young man being pulled over for a DUI. Passive and quiet, John Rust accepts his arrest, seemingly not really caring about the future. He’s just lost his handicapped brother Peter, whom he was devoted to, and was the sole caretaker of, for many years. He’s taken to the police station and processed, and eventually released on his own recognizance, and takes a taxi home. 

John’s attorney, Scott Jezek, is hoping to find a loophole – some way to keep John out of jail. He calls his best investigator, Sally Kravitz, explains John’s situation, and asks for her assistance. He also asks her to delve into Peter’s story in attempts to garner sympathy for his client. However, as Sally starts digging into the past, she learns that John & Peter came from a very volatile living situation as children, and that Peter’s handicap wasn’t something he was born with – it was inflicted. With Peter’s death now potentially being a years-old murder, Joe Gunther and his VBI team are notified and begin their own investigation.

Meanwhile, reporter Rachel Reiling receives a call from the local funeral home, suggesting that Peter & John Rust’s story would make a great human interest piece. Sighing to herself, Rachel politely takes the information and begins to do a little digging on her own.  In doing so she meets Sally, and the two join forces in their search for answers.  But now, no one can find John Rust – he seems to have disappeared. 

As the VBI gets involved, a sad but strange story emerges. A mother, Karen, who died of a drug overdose, a father Daryl, who walked out on his sons, and a few shifty companions, who either did time, or are deceased. As Joe & Willy look for these past players, Sally & Rachel dig deeper as well, bringing a 20 year old theft to light, and reawakening old grudges with a vengeance!

I have always enjoyed the Joe Gunther series, and this newest addition is no exception! As always, it is set in beautiful southern Vermont, and while the story starts a bit slower than some, I was very quickly drawn into the characters, their hardships, and the familiarity of Joe and his crew as if they were old friends – which in a manner of speaking, they are!  A satisfying ending, and as, always, a great read from Archer Mayor!  

I received this book as an Advance Reader Copy from St. Martins Press & Netgalley, in exchange for an objective review. 

The Four Winds – Kristin Hannah

The year is 1921, and Elsa Wolcott is set to celebrate her 25th birthday.  Considered sickly after surviving a childhood illness, she has been neglected by her family as her siblings thrive. Out wandering around town she sees a bolt of beautiful red fabric in a shoppe – impulsively she purchases the material, and creates herself a beautiful dress. Further defying her parents, she dons the dress and heads out for a night of fun – not knowing that decisions she makes this night will change her future forever. 

Flash forward to 1934, where Elsa lives with her husband Rafe, his parents and two children on a farm. Residing in the panhandle of Texas, they are barely surviving the Great Depression and a drought that has lasted a couple of years, creating what is known in present day as the Dust Bowl period. As she sees her small town dying before her eyes with crops that can’t grow, and families and farm animals that go hungry, she works twice as hard to keep her small family safe. Her husband, haunted by what his life has become, leaves abruptly one night, taking a train out of town As conditions worsen, and the dust storms wreak havoc, more and more families abandon farms in hopes of work and relief in California, and soon Elsa and her children decide to make the journey as well.

Leaving Rafe’s parents to tend the farm, Elsa takes the family truck, her children, and belongings as they make their way out to California. Arriving to beautiful scenery and the hopes of jobs and financial security, they soon learn that their type – ‘Okies’ – aren’t welcome, and soon Elsa finds herself in the fields picking cotton, and increasingly in debt as she tries to make ends meet.  There is unrest in the land as people workers rebel, pitting landowners against their employees, and the words of ‘union’ and ‘strike’ are soon whispered, creating anger and tension amongst the region, with Elsa finding herself in a very difficult position…

As is anything written by Kristin Hannah, the story is beautifully written, yet contained a history lesson and a brief, yet painful glimpse into the lives of Americans in the 1930’s. As Elsa and her family endured, and endured again, I kept waiting for the happy ending – I cannot imagine surviving the things that they did, possessing the sheer force of will that made Elsa’s spirit so indomitable – a trait her children carried as well.  But, given the nature of the story and the time period, it was an emotionally draining read when we, as a world, are also faced with such uncertainty in our present, as well. 

I received this book as an Advance Reader Copy from St. Martins Press & Netgalley, in exchange for an objective review.