Lonesome Road

Martha Bennett Stiles, Author
Martha Bennett Stiles, Author Gnomon Press $25 (275p) ISBN 978-0-917788-69-7
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
In this first adult novel by the author of several books for young adults (Island Magic, etc.), every parent's worst nightmare--a missing child--shatters a Kentucky family. Veterinarian Grove Brough and his devoted wife, Ruth, breed thoroughbred horses. With two beautiful children and three blueblood pregnant mares, Ruth sometimes feels as if her family had ""been granted a divine dispensation."" But when eight-year-old Lang disappears on the way to his school bus, everything changes. In a chilling opening scene, we watch as a rusty old Chevrolet glides up beside the child and a dirty, tattooed arm reaches to open the car door. Ruth is driven nearly mad, wondering what she could have done differently that morning, and then is terrified by what she perceives as Grove's affair with another woman. A black detective struggling to make it in a white department is cast as an unlikely candidate to solve this high-profile case. Other key players include the farm manager's wife, whose eighth pregnancy doesn't keep her from wearing pompom-adorned slippers and bright red pant suits; a vengeful, laid-off farmworker who comes off as far too predictably villainous; and a preacher named Reverend MacBee, who juggles rattlesnakes to outwit the devil. The grist is here for a mystery of Southern gothic proportions, but, unfortunately, there's more than a child missing in this book. Some ends are too neatly tied up, and others are ignored--a red baseball cap, for example, a provocative beacon presented early in the novel, never surfaces. Yet even with a surfeit of subplots that weaken the arc of the tale, the main story, with its inherent pathos and the sharp observation of domestic detail, still manages to strike a poignant chord. (Dec.)
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