Author: Nevada Barr
Publisher: Vanguard Press, 2009
Hardcover, 320 pages
Source: Paperback Swap
First Line: "By the Month or by the Night" read the sign over the entrance to the trailer park.
In a radical departure from her Anna Pigeon mystery series, Nevada Barr gives us a psychological thriller that begins in the 1970s in a trailer park in Mississippi. It then moves to Minnesota with the murder spree of a child dubbed "Butcher Boy." Finally in post-Katrina New Orleans, the adults from both these broken childhoods collide.
Polly escaped from her abusive "trailer trash" childhood at the age of fifteen, running away to New Orleans. Now she's a respected college professor with good friends, her own home, and two small children she adores.
"Butcher Boy" was released on his seventeenth birthday. His surviving brother has vowed to take care of him, and they both head south to that Mecca for runaways: New Orleans.
When Polly meets and falls in love with Marshall Marchand, a restoration architect who's helping to rebuild the city, their pasts are set on a collision course.
I love Barr's books, and although this book is very good, it didn't quite meet my expectations. It has everything to do with the characters. Perhaps it's because my mind is too devious, but there were few surprises with the Marchand brothers. I knew how that part of the plot was going to work itself out. That was a bit disappointing, but the character of Polly did much in making up for the deficiencies of the Marchands.
Even after the train wreck of her childhood, Polly was such a strong, centered, caring person that I wish the book could have focused even more on her. I wanted more Polly. Perhaps you'll understand after reading these two quotes:
Two girls-- children in Polly's eyes but of the age she'd been the first time she'd come to Jackson Square-- rose from a table tucked between the benches opposite the cathedral doors. They were tricked out in the unfortunate fashion that decreed female children dress as prostitutes in a world full of predators.
The dog, his head as high as his mistress's shoulder, walked beside her. The child's face was open and trusting. The dog's was not, and Polly was relieved. Children needed bodyguards.
On the face of it, Polly's just another mother who worries too much and reads too much into innocent scenes. But she's not. She's lived in a world of predators and survived. She knows exactly what's out there that she needs to be prepared for. Her children will not have to face what she did, that is, if Polly has the least say about it.
If you haven't read too many books about the twisted minds of killers (like I have), 13½ should make you jump at each creak of a floorboard or pop of an attic beam. And Polly is one character who should not be missed.