... a crisp, tightly edited 304 pages ... we have a murder and a mystery, and both will be solved, but Cash is up to much more in his gripping, multi-layered fourth novel about the South and race and how the past keeps a grip on the present ... Some readers may be taken aback by the abrupt gut-punch ending; I was at first. But as I mulled it over for several days—and that says a lot about the power of the book—I understood it was not capricious. Cash was setting it—and us—up all along, and it was as inevitable as nightfall in late autumn, when the ghosts come out.
... a pretty darned good murder mystery that attempts, with some success, to examine the history of race relations in his beloved state during a certain era ... quite the page-turner. If you can set aside the fact that the murder investigation is stunningly cavalier, inept and racist...the whodunit is mighty compelling. One not-minor complaint—the novel's title is a clichéd misrepresentation of the story it tells. Novel titles are powerful, and this one fails to represent the nuances of this uneven but still powerful novel.
Cash is a good storyteller, capturing the cadence of Southern speech and the complexity of modest lives with thoughtful intelligence. Class distinctions are cleverly revealed ... The problem is that this suspenseful Reagan-era story of a Southern sheriff haunted by a violent act in his past seems most believable as the invention of a well-intentioned author writing in 2021. The bad characters are cartoonish ogres ... It’s a comforting story that all racists are open and immediately identifiable, but also a distorting one. Racism is structural, and also insidious and pervasive, often hiding behind the smiles of Southern politeness. A progressive white sheriff in the 1980s South who is blindsided to learn that his co-worker of two decades is a bigot rings false in a novel that seems to redeem Southern liberalism, rather than fully exploring the deeper politics of place.
With his fourth novel, Wiley Cash demonstrates once again a breadth of compassion, an awareness of the intricacies of most of his character, and a willingness to end a story on an unexpected note ... [a] riveting opening leads to four days of plot twists that, although skillfully drawn, make for more plot than the 287-page narrative can support ... here’s no question who to root for, even when the heroes don’t adhere strictly to the law. And there’s no question about which characters deserve punishment ... Readers will see where the story is heading. That is, except for one moment at the end. Cash has a surprise in store, one that the reader may not like. But it’s a surprise that adds resonance to the mystery, even as it seems to sidestep some of the questions of character that fade like ghosts into the North Carolina night.
Cash does an excellent job of introducing characters and then spinning them into the narrative, leaving it up to the reader to decipher the role that their interactions might play in the plot ... The sordid history of the town is peeled back by Cash like an onion, with each layer carrying deeper revelations that slowly drive the story toward the guilty parties. Without giving too much away, there is a sort of 'non-ending' feel...that reminded me of the aforementioned No Country for Old Men This deep connection really hit home for me and makes the novel follow the lines of Southern noir with a mix of present and past sins for which someone must be held accountable.
Cash excels at conveying realistic family and community dynamics and creating complex characters, at least with the Barneses. Other characters, especially the cartoon-like villain, are not as deftly written. Mystery readers might quibble with a sizable plot hole and a rushed but shocking ending, but Cash's fans and readers of Southern stories will enjoy.
Writing with clarity and grace, best-selling Cash...is a gem of a storyteller, combining the solitary journey of a young mother’s grief and a community’s relentless battle against racial injustice. The result is a tightly crafted whodunit with true depth that readers will simultaneously want to speed through and savor.
Through the eyes of these very different characters, Cash creates an exquisitely detailed world that feels real and lived in. Sheriff Barnes is an easy character to root for as a man trying to do his best while living in a town that’s fighting against him. Although the plot alone is compelling enough to keep readers turning the pages, this is also a quietly moving look at how realistically flawed characters deal with the tragedies life throws at them. A gripping mystery with characters that will linger in readers’ minds long after they turn the last page.