April 21, 2016

Book Review: A Brilliant Death by Robin Yocum

A few weeks ago I reviewed A Brilliant Death for Shelf Awareness. I really enjoyed this literary mystery, and was happy to see it at the top of a "new books" display at the library the other day. And then I got a nice email from Robin, thanking me for my Shelf review, which always makes me even more inclined to recommend a book! 

The book is set in a few different time periods. It starts out in the late 90s, then flashes back to the 70s, where the main part of the story takes place. But the story really began in 1953, when Amanda Baron and her presumed lover were killed in a boating accident on the Ohio River. 

Amanda's son, Travis, was only five months old at the time of her death, and his father, Frank Baron, a mean and violent man, tends to shut Travis up with his fists whenever he asks about his mom. Now a teenager, Travis is determined to get to the root of the rumors about Amanda and her alleged unfaithfulness, so he enlists his best friend, Mitchell Malone, to help him. Throughout their high school years, Mitch and Travis work on "Project Amanda" as they seek to uncover the truth about what happened so long before.

But then, in a shocking and eerie twist of fate, on graduation night in 1971, Travis, drunk after celebrating his status as salutatorian, drives off a bridge into the Ohio. Mitchell, crushed by the death of his friend, is left holding dangerous information about the fate of Amanda and has to decide what to do with it.

Part coming-of-age story, part cold-case mystery, A Brilliant Death does an excellent job of depicting life in an Ohio steel town. Robin Yocum (Favorite Sons, The Essay) has a knack for nuanced characters and spot-on dialogue.

The changing timeline as the story unfolds will keep the reader guessing about Amanda's fate until the end of the novel, and Yocum's deft portrayal of Travis and Mitch's friendship makes A Brilliant Death an altogether charming read, despite the dark story framing it.

I highly recommend it!