I don’t know whether it’s a UK vs. US linguistic or cultural difference, or just my general immunity to certain forms of pun, but it took me until the middle of this book to realise that its title is a play on a certain Wizard of Oz song. Puns aside, this is another of those small-town mystery stories that may or may not work for me, from a new-to-me author, revolving around a series of unsolved murders – and a disappearance assumed to be a murder – almost forty years before the story begins. I was drawn into this one mainly because of the protagonist, the same age as the victims at the time of the murders, who is therefore somewhat older than the average gay romance hero.
Don Esker was ten the summer three boys from his hometown were murdered: the first being the younger brother of his then best friend, from whom he became estranged soon after due to the other boy’s cruelty and homophobic violence. Don has spent the intervening years trying to forget the events of that year, but returning home to be with his dying father brings back long-buried memories, especially when Don’s father, a main suspect at the time, begs Don to clear his name.
Don’s search brings him back into contact with many of the people who were involved in the case at the time: being a small town, everyone knew or was related to one or more of the victims. He makes new friends and attempts to rekindle old ones, including tracking down an older gay man who befriended Don at the time, but who became a suspect because of that innocent mentorship. Don also begins a relationship with another local gay man, who came across as very bland to me – as did Don, to be honest – nothing like the majority of my slightly-older-than-me friends, who all seem to have thrilling adventures any time they can get away from work.
However, it was Don who was the real sticking point of this story. Much of it is told in flashbacks, but even in the present-day sections, he comes across as very immature and sometimes quite cruel. I got no real sense of any finer feelings beyond family obligations and a hope that the real killer wasn’t any of his three brothers: of whom one at least fitted a psychologist’s profile of the murderer and another was tied to one murder scene by objects found there. Nor did I get any particular indication of what Don’s life had been like before circumstances drove him back to his birthplace, even though we get occasional glimpses of him trying to keep up remotely with his day job in between trying to investigate the murders. In the end, the mystery’s solution felt sadly predictable and formulaic, and I didn’t feel that Don underwent any great personal journey in his search for justice.
For more than forty years, the stain of horrific allegations against their father has haunted the Esker sons. When three little boys were murdered in 1975, their dad was suspected of the crimes. The immense strain of the unsolved case shattered the family, sending the brothers reeling into destinies of death, flight, and, in the case of Don Esker, shame-filled silence.
Years later, Don returns to the family home in North Homestead, Ohio, to help care for his dying father in his final months. His dad longs for the peace that will only come with clearing his name. If Don can find the killer, he can heal his family—and himself. His own redemption begins when he becomes romantically involved with Bruce, who joins the hunt and forces Don to confront the unthinkable answer they’ve uncovered.
Read an excerpt.