Plot: In the second installment of Holland's Big Ray Elmore series, the titular sleuth investigates the remains of a young girl discovered at a construction site. Holland creates a page-turner of a story with equal parts Southern charm, grit, and tenderness.
Prose: Holland has a clear handle on storytelling and firmly establishes a vivid sense of place and character. Big Ray's narration no-nonsense narration will pull readers into the mystery.
Originality: Holland's distinctive protagonist with deep roots in his community and no false conceptions about human nature uplifts the more standard mystery elements.
Character/Execution: No characters are wasted in Holland's storytelling; rather, each feels organic to the setting and circumstances, with Big Ray being the most endearing and vivid of them all.
Date Submitted: April 22, 2022
Holland (Their Feet Run to Evil) has populated the mystery with an exceptionally large cast, but has given every character such a rich personality that none of them disappear into the woodwork. Best of all is the deeply introspective Elmore, a World War II navy corpsman who harbors no illusions about war: "Watchin’ young men die doesn’t make anyone a hero." His wife has apparent depressive issues, but the tenderness in how they cope with it together is heartbreaking. At the same time, Elmore's infatuation with an old girlfriend, as he attempts to recapture his youth, comes across as deeply poignant. The plot gets a little tangled, and over-relies on coincidence, but the engaging characters carry the story well.
Nor do these characters exist in a vacuum. Holland, an Arkansas native himself, has a good ear and eye for the time and place. For example, his description of the importance of the church in that milieu comes across perfectly, and integrates deftly into the mystery, as pies and sweet tea smooth the subtle interrogations. He also understands the nuances of race relations: what could get you shunned in 1960 could get you killed in 1946. Absorbed into this complex and engaging universe, readers will be rapidly turning pages to see if Elmore can save the town—and himself.
Takeaway: An offbeat sleuth and a lively cast of suspects make for a true page-turner.
Great for fans of: Allen Eskens’s The Stolen Hours, Ace Atkins.
Design and typography: A-
Marketing copy: A-