January 21, 2016

Book Review: Angels Burning by Tawni O'Dell

I'm not going to lie - I tend to judge Oprah Book Club Picks by their covers. So I'd never read Tawni O'Dell's more famous book: Back Roads. But when Shelf Awareness sent me Angels Burning I decided to give it a try, and I'm so glad I did!

Angels Burning is a rather sad literary mystery set in Appalachian Pennsylvania. Reminiscent of many a scene from FX's television drama Justified, the suspense in Angels Burning revolves around the truculent Truly clan (who kept making me think of the Crowes from Justified).

Chief of police Dove Carnahan is appalled by the brutal murder of a teenage girl, whose charred body is found stuffed into a burning sinkhole in an abandoned mining town. The girl is soon identified as a member of the Truly family--notorious for their heavy drinking, frequent jail time and many out-of-wedlock babies.

As Dove works with the state police to coordinate the investigation (which is way too high-level for her small-town team), she keeps having flashbacks to the murder of her own mother 35 years earlier. Delving into the dark secrets of the Trulys means that Dove risks exposing the secrets of her family, too.

Tawni O'Dell has created an enigmatic and engaging story, filled with the realistic, quotidian sadness often found in blue-collar towns on an economic downswing. Dove Carnahan is a supremely likable character: a slightly mouthy, rather clothes-obsessed, intelligent and intuitive middle-aged woman. Dove's insight into the machinations of the Trulys is keen, and O'Dell's ability to capture small-town angst and envy is superlative. Even readers who don't typically like mysteries are sure to enjoy this gem of a novel.

We're halfway through season six of Justified, so don't tell me how it ends! But hopefully it's a bit like Angels Burning - with a little happiness in the midst of the sadness.

Have YOU read Tawni O'Dell before?