Talk about your unreliable narrator! Wade Mitchell is rapidly losing his memory, including his recall of the hot day in August 1995 when his young wife, Jenny, murdered their 6-year-old daughter May with a backhanded blow of a hammer and 9-year-old June disappeared into the woods, never to be seen again.
Idaho is Wade’s story. And Jenny’s. And it belongs to May and to June. It is also the story of Ann, who marries Wade knowing full well she will become his helpmeet and by the end of the story, is helping Jenny as well. So many people and so much humanity, so well-presented.
Idaho is a sprawling novel, criss-crossing through time, from the early days of Wade and Jenny’s marriage and ahead to 2025, when Jenny has finally completed her sentence is emerges into a future she never thought she’d see. The characters all have their own strengths, virtues, failures, and heartbreak. Despite the profusion of characters, the various timelines, and the reluctant unveiling of the fateful day, Idaho’s narrative is easy to follow. Emotionally compelling, Ruskovich reveals the bonds of love even as it revolves around the senseless tragedy.
It is hinted – but not confirmed – that Jenny’s jealousy of Wade and suspicion of his relationship with Ann, the school music teacher was the cause of her violent act. It is also unclear where June went, or why. At age 9, what were her options? And yet the bloodhound found nothing. Readers will differ on whether the lack of a clear resolution to the mysteries makes it a better book, or a worse one. I found the book to be perfectly itself and would not have changed it.
So how does Idaho stack up to the other nominees? It is most similar to Tornado Weather in its multitude of characters and plot threads, as well as the senseless nature of the crime. And as much as I liked Tornado Weather, I found Idaho to be a much richer and deeper book. And as much as I liked Idaho, it does not have the bright edge and sharply memorable characters that I found in She Rides Shotgun. So Shotgun stays at #1 and Idaho takes the #2 spot.
Literary Lunchbox Rankings: Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award, Best First Novel
- She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper
- Idaho by Emily Ruskovich
- Tornado Weather by Deborah E. Kennedy
- Dark Chapter by Winnie M. Li