After 18-year-old Roy Matthews was executed for murdering high school seniors Eliza Dunning and Travis Pratt, the small town of Ludlow heaved a massive sigh of relief that evil had been banished from their Kansas community.
But Eliza’s younger sister, Greer, isn’t so sure. She’s long been convinced the case was not as open-and-shut as it seemed, leaving her with a “nagging feeling I’d carried for fourteen years, like a claw in my gut, telling me this wouldn’t be over until every dark secret had been dragged out into daylight.”
As Amy Engel’s multilayered and engrossing I Did It For You opens 14 years later, those feelings surge to the surface when Greer’s father calls to tell her another teenage couple has been killed—in the same way, in the same location, with the same type of weapon.
The police consider it a copycat crime but Greer doesn’t, and she rushes from her Chicago home to Ludlow, eager to assuage her guilt at not pushing harder that awful summer. Could she have prevented this new crime? Will the truth help repair her broken family? Can she unearth the truth before the killer strikes again?
Engel imbues her protagonist with an authentic, contemplative voice. Greer grew up loving Ludlow because of its beauty, “the sound of wind whispering through wheat, the metallic smell of a thunderstorm rolling in fast from the north,” and reveling in the way she felt free to be herself among people she’d known forever. But since Eliza died she’s been adrift, unable to enjoy her life because her sister’s was cut short.
Back in Ludlow, Greer slips into familiar patterns but also makes a surprising new friend: Roy’s older brother, Dean, who joins her quest for truth. This allows Engel, a former criminal defense attorney, to sensitively explore what it’s like to be left behind from the perspective of not only the victim’s family but that of the perpetrator’s, a choice that makes I Did It For You stand out from other hometown mysteries. It’s a tense and immersive novel that considers the delight and darkness of living in a close-knit small town, as well as the ways in which unresolved anger and shame can eat away at a life.