Short Take: This could have been just another fun, fluffy mystery novel, but it was SO MUCH BETTER.
The archetype of the Female Detective rocks my socks, y’all. In a world where anything that’s described as “feminine” or “like a girl” automatically means less-than, these characters can shoot, fight, run, curse, and detect just as well as, if not better than, their male counterparts. They work harder to be taken seriously, but they still look fantastic in high heels and lipstick. They’re ballsy and tough and have hot sex with hot guys. They might take some abuse for being a woman in a man’s profession, but in the end, they will make their detractors eat those words, usually while handcuffed or being ridiculed by their colleagues.
In short, there’s this whole awesome trend of badass women in books, movies, and TV, and I think it’s fantastic. So of course, I knew I would enjoy My Sister’s Grave, but I didn’t really have super-high hopes. The title is seriously pretty bad. I figured it would be pretty cliched, but what the heck, sometimes, it’s fun to read something where you can figure out the end and feel smart, you know?
Ok, I guess I’m not that smart, cause WHOA, I totally did not see that coming.
Tracy Crosswhite’s sister Sarah disappears one night while driving home. Soon afterward, Edmund House, a convicted rapist, is tried and found guilty of her murder, despite the fact that her body has never been found. Twenty years later, Tracy has become a detective in Seattle, and is still trying to find out exactly what happened to Sarah. The evidence against House (who is still in prison) is flimsy at best, and his trial was a joke. But without new evidence, there’s really nothing to go on.
Then Sarah’s body is found.
Tracy goes back to her childhood home, the small town of Cedar Grove, and teams up with an old friend (Dan O’Leary, who is now an attorney) to get an innocent man out of prison, and to find out what really happened to Sarah. She’ll get the answers that she’s been digging for, but in the process, she’ll set off a truly horrific chain of violent events. And when I say violent, I mean VIOLENT. The author’s restraint throughout the first 85% or so of this book makes the ending that much more shocking.
Robert Dugoni has a way of flirting with stereotypes but never completely embracing them that elevates this book. For example, the small-town sheriff, Roy Calloway, is almost but not quite exactly the corrupt redneck Boss Hogg type. Tracy is everything I said above about the archetypal female detective, but she also isn’t quite so perfect and invincible. In this case, her single-minded obsession with solving the crime actually does more harm than good. Being lulled by characters who are exactly what you expect, only to have them veer off in a different direction, is fantastic.
The pacing is a little weird, but it works. There are a few chapters that feel draggy (usually dealing with Sarah’s other cases in Seattle), but it’s a really effective reminder of just how much real life happens, even when there’s something else that you think is much more important that you want to focus on.
And finally, the setting is really, really good. I also live in a small town that’s been dying for the last couple of decades, and I think that Dugoni really captured that sense of people who know that things aren’t good, but who are afraid to try to change anything and lose what little bit of a livelihood they still have.
Definitely a must-read for people who love a great mystery, regardless of the gender of the detective.
The Nerd’s Rating: FIVE HAPPY NEURONS