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by Ashley Winstead
Sourcebooks , October 2023
400 pages
ISBN: 1728269962

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

A dark, swampy atmosphere infuses the core of this book, which is set in the Louisiana bayou. There's the potential of a supernatural presence, and the book is marketed as horror. This does a disservice to the book, as those who are looking for a good atmospheric thriller will enjoy this one, and those who want a true horror book probably will not. Winstead makes many cultural references, both explicit and oblique. Most prominent, and definitely explicit, is the main character's obsession with the vampire in the Twilight series.

Ruth Collier is the Twilight-loving daughter of a fire and brimstone backwoods Southern preacher when she encounters her own version of evil in the bayou and is rescued by Everitt (Ever) Duncan, a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. This is the beginning of a tight relationship, as the two misfits bond over their sense of otherness in their respective worlds. When a skull is found in the bayou, the two think back to the night they met and Ruth, in particular, is afraid of the consequences. The tension (both sexual and otherwise) between the two is ever-present as they conduct their own investigation into the bones. The suspicion harbored by the god-fearing townspeople and fueled by the antics of Ruth's father's sermons is dangerously focused on Ever because of his background. The backwoods superstitions about the "Low-Man," the local personification of evil, are increasingly aimed at Ever while Ruth tries to save him by fighting off the townspeople and her own father.

There's enough evil to go around in this town, and Winstead falls victim to various stereotypes in her plotting. Nonetheless, it felt gratifying for the town's outcasts to play both the villain and savior roles. The over-the-top ending suits the equally unrestrained world-building throughout the book. It will also call to mind a famous movie denouement from the early nineties.

Sharon Mensing, retired educational leader, lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors in Arizona.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, December 2022

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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