The third entry in the Best First Novel category nominated for an Edgar Award is Bent Road, By Lori Roy. The story has a quiet, creepy quality to it, drawing me in and holding me hostage until the last page (or rather, spoken word, as I listened to it on CD). The Scott family, mom Celia, dad Arthur, and kids Elaine, Daniel and Evie move from Detroit to Arthur’s boyhood home state of Kansas. He hasn’t been back in the twenty years since he and Celia have married. The extended Scott family in Kansas is introduced immediately and we learn that Arthur’s sister Eve died under mysterious circumstances when she was a teen and Arthur a boy. The family (and the town) suspect Eve’s killer was her boyfriend Ray, but there’s little evidence other than rumor to support the suspicion. Ray stays in town and ends up marrying Arthur and Eve’s sister, Ruth. Ray is a drunk who has beaten Ruth throughout their marriage. She finally takes a stand and leaves him to go stay with Arthur and Celia. Then she discovers she’s pregnant.

The Scott kids try to fit in at the new school, but only Elaine has any luck, striking up an immediate and successful romance with Jonathan. Daniel focuses on what it means to “be a man,” but his only friend is one of the Butcher boys, a physically disabled kid who has a large imagination for scary tales. Evie, the youngest, is told by everyone how much she looks like her Aunt Eve. The family shields her from the information that Eve is dead, not wanting to scare her. Then a young girl from Evie’s class goes missing and everyone in the family and town think Ray’s guilty. I won’t reveal any more of the story except to say that it breaks some mystery writing taboos (a child dies) but delivers a satisfying read.

I enjoyed the book a great deal and think Roy made some interesting choices as a writer. The book is written in present tense, which is unusual but not distracting in the least. It lends an immediacy to the story and creates suspense. She also presents the story from various characters’ points of view, which is tricky to do well. Lori Roy’s confidence in her writing comes through in choosing this strategy; each character’s voice is distinct and easy to recognize. It also allows the reader to delve deeper into what motivates each character. I found Ruth’s character especially compelling, seeing how she coped with Ray’s abuse and her subtle transformation after leaving him.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I rate this book an 8.

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