In this riveting literary suspense novel, first-timer Ward presents in lean, luminous prose a precarious world where true love can ravage as well as redeem, exploring a series of murders in Lincoln, Nebr., in the 1950s from the perspective of three narrators. After an argument with her volatile stepfather, 14-year-old Caril Ann Fugate flees into the woods behind her house, where she spies (the real-life killer) red-haired Charles Starkweather, carrying a .22 rifle. From their first uneasy meeting, the girl senses that she and Starkweather are meant to be together. Ward eerily evokes a romantic union destined for disaster; the emotionally unsettled Starkweather pledges eternal love to the impressionable teen as he entangles her in murders that change their lives forever. Four years after the slayings that shook her hometown, Lincoln teenager Susan Hurst continues to pore over newspaper clippings about Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, secretly envious of their dark, desperate love. Bemused by a distant father and mercurial mother, Susan has trouble relating to peers until she meets Lowell Bowman, son of two of the murder victims. Thirty years later, Lowell Bowman, now a Manhattan art collector, remains haunted by visions of his parents' murder. He has grown apart from his wife, who pesters him about retrieving a mysterious safe deposit box. Traumatized by the past and fearful of the future, Bowman embarks on a solitary quest to examine the contents of the box and the purpose of his life. On the novel's acknowledgments page, Ward thanks her father for allowing her to explore such "delicate material." An already chilling novel drops a few more degrees at the unsettling admission that it's based in truth. Agent, Rob McQuilkin. (Sept.)
Forecast: Ward's debut—solidly backed by Holt with a $100,000 ad/promo campaign and a 10-city author tour—should appeal to readers of true crime as well as fans of literary fiction.
Release date: 09/01/2004