My Sister’s Grave

March 30, 2015

My Sister’s Grave. Robert Dugoni. 2014. 401 pages. Thomas & Mercer Publishing. [Source: Kindle Unlimited.]

Whew. My Sister’s Grave is an emotional and psychological roller coaster from start to finish. I picked this at random while scrolling through Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited offerings, and selected this one purely because of its provocative title. I didn’t bother to read the description; I just jumped in.

That’s much like the plot. You’re eased into who Tracy Crosswhite is, but beyond that, you’re thrust into emotional turmoil as she comes to grips with the fact that the remains of her younger sister — who’d gone missing 20 years prior — have just been recovered in a former lake bed near their sleepy little hometown. The rest of the plot follows Tracy’s dogged pursuit of the truth about what happened to Sarah so many years ago. Her focus on the procedural aspects of Edmund House’s conviction for Sarah’s murder opens a Pandora’s box of questions about what really happened and the choices the town made as a result. Cedar Grove was traumatized by Sarah’s disappearance, and the hunt for justice in the past threatens to undermine the precarious comfort they’ve found in the present.

What I enjoyed most about My Sister’s Grave is the way Dugoni weaves the story through time. As he presents current events in the present, he jumps back in time to give details about related events in the past. Sometimes that means going back 30 years to understand the close bond between Sarah and Tracy, and sometimes it’s only a few years back to give perspective about Tracy’s research into the disappearance. In either case, the reader gets a better feel for all of the characters, what they’ve gone through, and what motivates them.

Any reader of suspense/thrillers can appreciate a whodunit that isn’t clear cut. There were countless times while reading when I thought I’d figured out who the killer was and had lain a whole story line to justify my choice. However each time, I had changed my mind within a chapter’s length. Beyond that, I found myself reflecting on the nature of the legal system and what constitutes guilt and innocence and how that plays out in the public consciousness as well as the courtroom. My Sister’s Grave challenges these notions and begs the question of how far is too far when you think you’re acting for the greater good?

There is a robust cast of characters between the hustle and bustle of Tracy’s life in Seattle and her return as a prodigal daughter to Cedar Grove. The juxtaposition of big city politics and small town secrets makes for very complicated characters who clash often. Just when you think you understand a character, another layer is peeled back that gives depth and a bit more understanding of their own choices. It’s hard not to get invested in people like the tough-talking “Chief” Calloway when you’re able to see how Sarah’s death put him on a trajectory that nobody could have anticipated, let alone coped well with.

My Sister’s Grave is a compelling read that you won’t soon regret. The blend of police and courtroom drama, real life pain and love make for a story that never stagnates. The reader is treated to a glimpse at a crime from its heartless start to heartbreaking finish, then gets a first-row seat to its fallout in the courtroom and the lives of everyone it touched. Its heroine, Tracy Crosswhite, is a no-nonsense yet thoughtful character who will make a great protagonist in future novels. I’m excited to read #2 in her series, Her Last Breath when it is released later this year.

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