Title: Angels Burning by Tawni O’Dell
Publisher: Gallery Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: 288 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
From the New York Times bestselling author of the Oprah Book Club pick Back Roads comes this fast-paced literary thriller about a small town police chief who’s forced to dig into her own shadowy past as she investigates the murder of a teenage girl.
On the surface, Chief Dove Carnahan is a true trailblazer who would do anything to protect the rural Pennsylvanian countryside where she has lived all fifty of her years. Traditional and proud of her blue-collar sensibilities, Dove is loved by her community. But beneath her badge lies a dark and self-destructive streak, fed by a secret she has kept since she was sixteen.
When a girl is beaten to death, her body tossed down a fiery sinkhole in an abandoned coal town, Dove is faced with solving the worst crime of her law enforcement career. She identifies the girl as a daughter of the Truly family, a notoriously irascible dynasty of rednecks and petty criminals.
During her investigation, the man convicted of killing Dove’s mother years earlier is released from prison. Still proclaiming his innocence, he approaches Dove with a startling accusation and a chilling threat that forces her to face the parallels between her own family’s trauma and that of the Trulys.
With countless accolades to her credit, author Tawni O’Dell writes with the “fearless insights” (The New York Times Book Review) she brought to the page in Back Roads and One of Us. In this new, masterfully told psychological thriller, the past and present collide to reveal the extent some will go to escape their fate, and in turn, the crimes committed to push them back to where they began.
Despite plenty of dysfunction, despair and dark secrets, Angels Burning by Tawni O’Dell is a surprisingly light-hearted yet sometimes heartbreaking mystery set in a small Pennsylvania town.
Police Chief Dove Carnahan is shaken by the discovery of a burned body in the nearby abandoned mining town of Campbell’s Run but she is horrified to learn the victim is seventeen year old Camio Truly. Camio’s family is well-known for its frequent brushes with the law and somewhat tragic deaths, but Dove is stunned by their lack of interest in bringing Camio’s killer to justice. Stonewalled at every turn by the largely apathetic clan, Dove, along with State Police Detective Nolan Greely, unearth the family’s well-concealed secrets but is the information they discover a motive for murder? And if it is, is someone in the family Camio’s killer?
Although Dove is no stranger to dysfunction or tragedy, she does not let the past define her. Her neglectful but beautiful mother was brutally murdered when Dove was a teenager but she and her sister, Neely, have forged successful lives in the years since the crime. Unfortunately, their younger brother, Champ, has not fared as well as his sisters but when he turns up out of the blue after a decades’ long absence, the sisters are hopeful they can repair their distant relationship. Champ’s return and the murder investigation coincide with the release of Dove’s mother’s killer from prison and all of these events combined resurrect painful memories from her distant past but she remains committed to finding the person who murdered Camio.
Despite the lack of crime in the small town, Dove is an excellent investigator and she has an insider’s perspective of how her community works. She is keenly observant and empathetic but she also becomes very impatient with the Truly family’s lack of cooperation. Although her methods are occasionally a bit unorthodox, Dove uncovers valuable evidence that changes the course of the investigation. While troubled by the brewing problems in her personal life, Dove never loses focus of the task at hand and she eventually breaks the case wide open.
Poignant with an undercurrent of despair, Angels Burning is more than a mystery. This complex story has a cast of deeply flawed yet surprisingly sympathetic characters that are well-drawn and personable. The novel is intricately plotted with seemingly complicated storylines yet when the truth is finally revealed, reasons and motives are shockingly simple and easy to relate to. Another absolutely stellar novel by Tawni O’Dell that offers an intuitive and discerning peek into the seamier side of life in rural America.