The following review/Q and A is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.
Sorrow Road by Julia Keller is an excellent title for this story. Most of the characters have some dysfunctional issue going on in their lives, whether overcoming PTSD, having to handle a parent with Alzheimer’s, or abuse within a family. Keller brilliantly explores these issues within a riveting mystery, tying up loose ends as the story concludes.
This series started when Bell Elkins abandoned her husband and high stress job in Washington DC to become the prosecutor of a made up town in Ackers Gap, Raythune County, West Virginia. In this installment, one of her high school classmates, Darlene, returns to her home town, to ask Bell to look into her father’s suspicious death at an old age home. After a worker at Thornapple Terrace Senior Citizen Home is murdered along with her best friend, Bell suspects another connection. Her investigation unravels a relationship and secrets kept between Darlene’s father and his two childhood friends. Readers will enjoy this story about ‘three boys’ who fought in World War II to the present day where their children are facing parents with Alzheimer’s.
Keller believes “the three boys” are a reflection “of the boys and girls from small towns in our heartland that fought and won America’s wars. They sacrificed the rich part of their lives for our country. The photo I used in the book was from my mother’s husband who fought in World War II. He told the story of how he and his friends were on a battleship in Normandy, but the day after the battle. I found it fascinating they were there, but the day following the big event.”
Having been born and bred in West Virginia, Keller is able to write potent scenes about this state that are intertwined within the plot. West Virginia looms larger than life as the author describes the economic hardships of the residents, the roads, weather, and history, balancing the physical beauty with the many problems.
As with everyday life the characters in this story have their past affecting how they deal with the present. Bell, abused as a child, has these past memories haunting her, sometimes putting her relationship with a younger man into disarray. Carla realizes she can no longer suppress the hideous memories of her good friend being killed as well as her being kidnapped. The retired Sherriff, Nick Fogelsony, is attempting to recover from a gunshot wound and his wife’s emotional handicap. Darlene has become an alcoholic to withdraw from who she has become. Finally, a daughter is trying to come to grips with the ravages of Alzheimer’s that have left her father’s memory clear of the abuses he inflicted on his children.
The Alzheimer’s theme is important to her because “I have been obsessed with memory. Someone once told me this quote, ‘Memories are the bones of thought.’ There are just so many variables about it we do not understand. I am one of those people who believe the past lives within us and we never leave it behind. I wanted to explore what happens when a person has lost their memory; can they be blamed for whatever grievance was inflicted by them? We have older people in the world to teach us patience. Making sure they are cared for takes the spotlight away from us. Anyone with an older parent understands how it is a whole different way of looking at the world. Alzheimer’s is such a national part of our landscape and is a national issue on how we will take care of people inflicted with it.”
There are two powerful quotes that reflect on the parent-child relationship. “Just as she had done when Carla was an infant…She was able to keep her daughter safe, even for just a few hushed hours, deep in a winter’s night.” AND “The guilt that burned and surged and twisted inside you because you so futilely wished you’d done more for your loved one…wished you stopped in more often and paid better attention when you did, wished you hugged him just once more during that last visit, and told him just one more time that you loved him.”
The first quote was based on how “my sister and her daughter react toward one another. The mother never goes out of you. They never lose that feeling of keeping a child safe even when they are grown and out of your control. This is one of my favorite scenes. Beth was holding her daughter Carla and at that moment she is safe in her mom’s arms.” While the second quote came from “my anticipatory guilt of my mom dying. I can’t leave my mom’s visits early because I don’t want to look back and regret something. Although, I do think most people will look back with some kind of regret or guilt.”
Sorrow Road has the themes of good versus evil, revenge verses forgiveness, and love versus murder. In this tale of memory and family the story is relatable and believable, and the West Virginia setting fits perfectly into this mystery.