The Horror Honeys: Hardcover Honey's Haunted Bookclub ~ One of Us

Hardcover Honey's Haunted Bookclub ~ One of Us

A Book of the Week Review by Jocelyn

One of Us – Tawni O’Dell 

This week’s Hardcover Honey Book of the Week comes from Tawni O’Dell – and if your only exposure to her is seeing the Oprah brand on an earlier book, please don’t let that dissuade you.  This one is far from the typical Oprah-approved heartwarming family drama.

Tawni O’Dell’s previous works have all taken place in mining towns similar to the one she was born and raised in.  They say “write what you know” and that approach seems to work well for O’Dell, with this latest book definitely her darkest.

In “One of Us” we meet Sheridan “Danny” Doyle, a forensic psychologist who specializes in high-profile cases and is often a guest on the MSNBC and CNN talking-head shows.  He has a full wardrobe of expensive clothing, detailed exhaustively throughout the book, and a transgender assistant named Max (formerly Stacy) who clucks over him like a mother hen.  Despite his never having married or had kids, things should be looking up for Dr. Doyle – he is well-known, wealthy, and seems to enjoy his work for the most part, even finding something awfully close to friendship in a serial-killer patient who, as the book opens, solemnly announces that, “Everything bad that happens in this world is the fault of someone’s mother.”  Sigh.

His words strike a chord with Dr. Doyle, whose own mother has been in and out of mental institutions since the death of his infant sister Molly many years earlier.  It seems poor Sheridan, who instantly reverts to Danny as soon as he reaches the border of his childhood mining town, has spent his life trying to help his mother and avoid his abusive father.  The only steady family member in his life is his coal-mining grandfather, Tommy – and when Danny gets the call that Tommy is sick, the book truly kicks into gear.

Returning to his aptly named hometown of Lost Creek, Danny is struck once again with all the darkness and ugliness the town holds. He refers to the town as a “barbaric land of past-due utility bills, faded hand-me-towns, and Tator Tot dinners” – and what a detailed vision that produced for me!  Populated primarily by the descendants of Irish immigrants, the town rises and (mostly) falls on the fortunes of its mine, owned by the haughty and little-seen Dawes family.  And the town has a violent history indeed, as several decades earlier, a Dawes patriarch built a new kind of gallows, where he hung a group of rabble-rousing miners who were orchestrating an uprising against the mine owners.  The structure still stands today, has become something of a tourist trap, and is rumored to be haunted.  One of the men who died that day was Danny’s great-great-grandfather, which has always fascinated Danny.

While in town to check on Tommy, Danny goes for a long run and is startled when he comes upon the gallows and finds a dead body lying in its shadow.  Rumors and innuendo spread like wildfire, and Danny is quickly drawn into old stories and lies while he tries to determine what is real and what is faulty memory.  At the same time as Danny returns to town, the daughter of the current Dawes patriarch also comes back for reasons of her own.  Scarlet is a memorable character and her descriptions of her father are priceless – a man who told her that it’s ok to be very poor or very rich but not in-between as the people in-between “spend their lives obsessed with the pathetic mundane trappings of mediocrity.  It’s why we have a country infested with shopping malls, tractor mowers, aluminum siding, and sweatpants.”  Scarlet has her own expensive set of clothes and her own agenda – and as she and Danny circle each other warily, long-buried secrets threaten to become exposed.  Although I guessed quickly at the main twist (which is a rarity for me, so please let me savor this moment!) the descriptions alone were enough to keep me very interested in this book.  Back in the day, I was obsessed with the Alex Delaware books by Jonathan Kellerman – if you liked those as I did, you’ll enjoy this one too!

3.5 dirty coal mines out of five for this gripping novel.