First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, W. H. Cameron, and Crooked Lane Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.
New to the world of W. H. ‘Bill’ Cameron, I was not sure what to expect, but the dust jacket blurb had me wanting to uncover all the nuances of this book. After some troubling times in Boston, Melisende ‘Mel’ Dulac is given a generous opportunity by her estranged husband’s family. She travels to Oregon and is accepted without issue. Unsure what else to do, she takes a job working alongside them as an apprentice undertaker, which has many interesting stories that come along with it. When she witnesses the town football star in the midst of raping a girl, she presses to have charges brought, which does not ingratiate her with many of the townsfolk, but Mel is not all that bothered. However, when she comes upon a multi-vehicle crash along that same stretch of road a few days later, she is forced into action and discovers an abandoned newborn on the side of the road. Rather than doing the dutiful thing, she leaves it, which catches the local paper’s headlines and she is thereafter branded uncaring. However, when she goes to show a family member the body of one of the accident victims, it has gone missing. Could she have misplaced the body and let it disappear? Things only get worse when, at the crematorium, all the bodies from the wreck have apparently been incinerated, leaving no evidence on which the authorities can work. Stripped of the county contract for body removal, Mel turns to seeing who might be trying to run her out of town. Between this and her constant conversations with her deceased brother, Mel cannot tell what is real and how active an imagination she might have. Other things begin happening and it would seem she is again the target some some wrongdoing. Trying to clear her name turns out to be Mel’s main goal, as well as learning more about this rural community and who might have lost a newborn on the side of the road. The mysteries continue to pile up, as Mel seeks to define herself. Those who enjoy slowly revealed thrillers with extensive flashbacks will surely find something in this piece. I was not entirely sold, though am not soured at the same time.
With no previous work to gauge my sentiments, I have to use this piece as the sole yardstick to determine how I feel about Cameron’s work. There is surely a great deal going on within it, with some strong writing and decent character revelations. Melisende has a pile of issues that could—and should, perhaps—be the topic of its own book. From a lacklustre childhood in which her parents all but abandoned her when her brother died, to a marriage that flew off the rails and saw her institutionalize before her husband disappeared, Melisende has lived a full life and is not yet thirty. Her coming West is likely an attempt to reinvent herself, through she is far from docile and quiet while meeting new people. Her gritty attitude surely works in her favour, though she is trying to step on toes and take no prisoners, which is surely not how things are done in Oregon. There is so much for the reader to take in about Melisende that I almost wonder if Cameron ought to have scaled back or, should he have plans for a series, to slowly pepper throughout the narrative of a few books. Others serve as interesting place-settings in the larger plot reveal, complementing and impeding the protagonist throughout. There is a little mystery, some coming of age, and even a few attempts at trying to mend fences, all developed as Melisende crosses paths with others. While some readers panned this book harshly, I found there to be some decent writing and a strong plot throughout. It dragged significantly in the opening portion, but was also weighed down with many flashback portions—some in the middle of a chapter of present-time events—that surely added some confusion for some readers. I can see a great story in here, but some of it needs to be left out or spread into a few books. Melisende is intriguing and I would read more involving her, though I wonder if Cameron wanted to toss it all onto the wall to see what might stick. A mix of chapter lengths kept things moving at times when the pace had almost reached January molasses, which helped me forge ahead and keep an open mind. I’d try another book because of the subject matter, but I really hope many of the constructive comments are incorporated, as I have no patience for a repeat.
Kudos, Mr. Cameron, for this decent mystery. I trust you’ll find your way, as Melisende is, with your next publication.
A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons