Small towns are supposed to be safe—nestled away from the dirty streets, the riffraff, the greed and the vice more common in big cities. They are places where you can leave your doors unlocked at night, where you can trust your neighbors. So when crime does come calling, it is even more shocking. Such is the case in two fantastic new novels: Before Familiar Woods by Ian Pisarcik and The Evil Men Do by John McMahon.
In Before Familiar Woods, North Falls, Vermont, is still reeling from the deaths of two young boys three years ago when the unexplained disappearance of the boys’ fathers sends fears skyrocketing. With the law unable—or unwilling—to help (it’s been less than 48 hours since the men disappeared), Ruth Fenn takes it upon herself to find her husband, who is one of the two missing. But as her late son, Mathew, was ultimately blamed for the previous deaths, few people in town are inclined to aid in her search.
When Milk Raymond, an Iraq war veteran, returns home to raise his son, Daniel, Ruth sees a kindred spirit in him. After Daniel is abducted by his mother, Ruth and Milk team up to get him back before tragedy can strike again. The two plots inevitably intersect resulting in an unexpected, violent finish.
In his debut novel, Pisarcik paints vivid passages that firmly establish the cold isolation of the town itself as well as Ruth’s role as town outcast. A sense of hopelessness and foreboding permeate the novel, which builds slowly but steadily towards its stunning conclusion.
The Evil Men Do, John McMahon's exhilarating follow-up to his Edgar Award-nominated debut novel The Good Detective, is a more traditional small-town whodunit. Detective P.T. Marsh and his partner Remy Morgan follow a series of leads surrounding the mysterious death of real estate mogul Ennis Fultz, found deceased in his home in Mason Falls, Georgia. But seemingly every clue prompts new questions, new suspects and even fewer answers.
Like Ruth in Pisarcik’s novel, Marsh is haunted by the death of his son under tragic circumstances, leading him to an excessive drinking habit and a less-than-positive reputation within the police department and community at large. When his father-in-law has a suspicious accident, it raises new complications and deeper secrets that threaten to upend his fragile police tenure even further.
McMahon delivers the story in straightforward, terse prose. The approach easily pulls the reader in as Marsh's case ramps up in complexity and scope, both personally and professionally. Fans of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series of novels will find much to like about this novel and its down-to-earth hero.
As Marsh puts it, “A murder scene is like the most exquisite painting you’ve ever seen. You notice the brushstrokes. The smudges. They all reveal something about the artist, some unconscious pattern.” Both Pisarcik and McMahon prove to be artists in their own right, each passage written with the care devoted to a brushstroke in a larger masterpiece.