Lori Roy must be ecstatic: her first novel, Bent Road, won the Edgar Award last year in the Best First Novel category. Her second novel, Until She Comes Home, has been nominated in the Best Novel category, again by those enthusiastic Edgar Awards folks. I have not always kenned how some of the novels for consideration by the Mystery Writers of America’s awards have been selected. But with Lori Roy’s novels it is clear her writing has much to recommend it.

Set in Detroit in the mid-1950s, Until She Comes Home starts with a shocking murder: a young African-American woman is brutally slain with a hammer. We soon learn that she is one among many other similar women who offer themselves to the white men at the local plant when Friday payday rolls around. The opening scene hints strongly that the perpetrator is the wife of one of the white men.

Soon after this, in a neighborhood of white people who feel their way of life is threatened by the influx of black neighbors, a young white woman named Elizabeth goes missing. The men on Alder Street take off from work and organize a search for her; the wives of these men organize a respite headquarters, keeping hot coffee and food and available for the men. The search is useless: Elizabeth has disappeared without a trace except for one white shoe that is found.

The rest of the story revolves around three main female characters, Malina, Grace and Julia. Each woman has distinct secrets that are revealed (slowly) throughout the book. Malina suffers in a highly dysfunctional marriage to a man we come to see may be a child molester. Grace is pregnant with her first child and close friends with Julia, whose baby died a few months after she was born (the doctors can give her no reason for the baby’s death, only that “it happens” sometimes). Julia longs for another child but her husband won’t go near her. Grace is attacked and raped by one man in a trio of African-American men who use the alley behind her house as a shortcut to the bus stop morning and evening. (Lori Roy uses an interesting and apt metaphor here: when the white neighbors discuss the alley being used as a shortcut, they note that the men leave broken glass, green broken glass, littering the alleyway. Grace tries to keep the alley clean and sweeps up the glass but her husband discourages it. Instead, he continues to assert that they should move away.) The underlying fear in the neighborhood is that the black men are responsible for Elizabeth’s abduction and murder.

When Julia’s twin nieces go missing, the story jumps into high gear and the seemingly unrelated story threads and secrets each woman harbors coalesce into a satisfying climax. Lori Roy writes with one of the quietest voices I’ve ever read but like a person whispering in my ear, I strain to catch every nuance and am not disappointed. She is subtle but engrossing and a pleasure to read.

On a scale of one to ten, I rate this novel an eight.

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