Lori Roy is either living a charmed life or is singularly talented. Or possibly both. She’s published three novels, and all three have been nominated for Mystery Writers of America Edgar Awards. Her first book, Bent Road, won the Edgar for Best First Novel in 2012. Her second, Until She Comes Home, was nominated for best novel in 2014, losing out to William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace. Her latest is in the running for Best Novel. Let Me Die in His Footsteps is set in a small town in Kentucky, moving back and forth between the 1930s and the 1950s. The focus is on Juna Crowley, as seen through the eyes of her sister Sarah, and Juna’s daughter Annie Holleran. Like her mother and grandmother, Annie has the “know-how” – a way of knowing what is coming before it comes.
Annie has known that her true mother is Juna, who went away when Annie is a baby, but could come back at any time. She is watching for her, expecting her, especially now that Annie has reached her day of ascension. That’s the day, halfway between her 15th and 16th birthdays, when a girl can look down a well at midnight and see the face of her intended husband. Annie wants to see her future, but what she finds when she heads to the nearest well is more than she bargained for. Personal mysteries abound, and for a girl with the know-how, Annie has an awful lot to figure out
In the alternating story, Sarah Crowley is yearning for a young man herself. A neighbor, Ellis Baine, one of many brothers, is the one who draws her eye. But it’s her sister, Juna, who attracts the men. Sensual and selfish, Juna uses a mysterious power to get what she wants. As Sarah knows, Juna has a way of bending a person’s mind in her direction. Indeed, Juna wishes to go to the fields to have sex with a local man, but Sarah foils her plan and arranges for their younger brother, Dale, to go with Juna so that Sarah can engineer a casual meeting with Ellis. When Dale later can’t be found, Juna tells a story of a passerby who “took Dale.” When all is said and done, the community is convinced that the oldest Baine boy, kidnapped and beat Dale, and raped Juna. Sarah is skeptical, thinks Juna is to blame, but still leaves Dale in Juna’s care. Dale dies. And Joseph Carl Baine is hanged for the crimes.
The repercussions reverberate. Indeed, Juna is pregnant, and the father assumed to be Joseph Carl. The baby – Annie – is born much too early, but full size. And within just a day, Juna packs a bag and is gone forever, only sending a card or letter each Christmas. One by one, the Baine boys leave town. Sarah marries John Holleran, a good man who loves her, and takes Annie as her own. And life goes on until Annie’s ascension day, when all begins to unravel.
By the end of Let Me Die in His Footsteps, all mysteries are resolved, and in ways the reader definitely does not expect. It’s not quite Sixth Sense surprising, but I let out an “OMG” at one point. The plot, pacing, and suspense are superb. Roy has an amazing ability to show inner character through behavior. She is a master of misdirection- hiding the pertinent facts in plain sight, buried in other facts, but obvious upon the reveal. And perhaps most importantly, her writing is beautiful. Her description of lavender fields is so lush, you can smell the lavender.
How does it stack up to Michael Robotham’s Life or Death and M.J. Carter’s The Strangler Vine? We may be three for three when it comes to good reads, but Let me Die takes the top spot on my ranking. I have three more books to review and rank before April 28, but Roy’s got my bet as of today. Well-done.
Literary Lunchbox Edgar Ranking: Best Novel