First and foremost, a large thank you to Trevor Wiltzen for providing me with a copy of this novel, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.
Approached by the author to review his debut novel, I was intrigued with what appeared to be a captivating dust jacket blurb in Heart of a Runaway Girl. Trevor Wiltzen takes readers back to a small Washington town in the 1980s, where drugs and white supremacy are running rampant. When a murder takes place, the easiest person to name becomes the sole suspect, though this does not sit well with Mabel Davison. She’s determined to get to the bottom of what happened and sacrifice it all for an innocent man.
Blue River is nestled in the heart of Washington State, but is by no means tranquil. A hotbed of drugs and racism in 1986, it’s surely nowhere one would want to raise their children. However, Mabel Davison is doing her best as a single parent. Her local diner and motel serve the locals well, allowing Mabel to get a sense of the town’s pulse.
While waitressing one evening, Mabel notices a young couple at a back table; a white girl and her black boyfriend. They appear to be arguing, though Mabel presumes it’s just one of those teenage squabbles and lets them be. When news breaks hours later that young Karen Thompson was found raped and murdered at the local mill, all eyes turn toward her boyfriend, Winston Washington. It seems to make sense that a black man who commit such a heinous act, so he is rounded up by the local sheriff. When a group of local white supremacists learns of the arrest, they try to bring about their own form of justice, stopped only when Mabel gets involved and calls the state police.
Something in her gut tells Mabel that Winston is innocent, though she has no concrete proof. She pushes ahead to learn as much as she can about both Karen and Winston, while dodging the pressure of others to let the wheels of justice turn. Mabel begins asking the tough questions and starts investigating on her own, only to discover a potential list of suspects that no one wants to name.
While she is able to convince Winston’s attorney not to accept the guilt that his client is professing to put things to sleep, Mabel knows that she is entering dangerous territory. She unearths much of the local drug trade and offends many men in positions of power, all to help Winston. This could surely have dire results, but Mabel Davison is nothing if not compassionate.
Juggling her work, her home life, and the constant threats that come with asking too many questions, Mabel finds that she may be the only one who really seeks to advocate for Winston’s innocence, while also shining a light on the real killer who treated Karen Thompson so poorly. Mabel’s prepared to sacrifice it all and she may have that chance, if she makes a single wrong move!
While this may be Trevor Wiltzen’s debut novel, it sure doesn’t read like it. There is depth and an addictive plot that will keep the reader hooked as they try to push through to see who the real killer is in what is being called the first in a new series.
Mabel Davison comes across as a woman who has such a big heart and is willing to help anyone in need. Known to many around town, she seeks to ensure that everyone is heard and that truth sees the light of day, even if it is not always what people want to hear. A single mother, she has her own demons from the past, but is doing all that she can to raise two boys and a niece. Sheer determination to do what is right makes her the best amateur investigator, not taking herself too seriously while not dismissing the importance of the mission at hand.
Wiltzen provides a handful of strong characters who help make the novel as alluring as it is. Coming from many walks of life, these men and women add flavour to an already intriguing story and help depict Washington State in the mid-80s effectively. I found myself wanting to know more about many who grace the pages of this book, making the fact that there may be a series in the works all the more exciting.
The premise of the book may sound a little odd—local waitress seeks to become private investigator to help a patron—but it works! Wiltzen develops his story and characters in such a way that the story flows well and keeps the rewarded guessing. With short chapters, the reader is propelled to keep reading (as I did) well into the evening to discover the truth that Blue River residents do not want known. The writing is strong, the ideas clear, and the narrative crisp, making this the perfect debut to captivate the attention of the curious reader. I’ve already signed up to receive more information about future publications and I suspect others will follow suit once they get their hands on this one!
Kudos, Mr. Wiltzen, for this wonderful introduction to your work. Glad to see a fellow Albertan out there making a name for himself. I cannot wait to see what else you have in store for Mabel and your fans!
A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons