Updated: Sep 18, 2022
Book 10: We Are All the Same in the Dark by Julia Heaberlin
The discovery of a girl abandoned by the side of the road threatens to unearth the long-buried secrets of a Texas town's legendary cold case in this superb, atmospheric novel from the internationally bestselling author of Black-Eyed Susans.
It's been a decade since Trumanell Branson disappeared, leaving only a bloody handprint behind. Her pretty face still hangs like a watchful queen on the posters on the walls of the town's Baptist church, the police station, and in the high school. They all promise the same thing: We will find you. Meanwhile, her brother, Wyatt, lives as a pariah in the desolation of the old family house, cleared of wrongdoing by the police but tried and sentenced in the court of public opinion and in a new documentary about the crime.
When Wyatt finds a lost girl dumped in a field of dandelions, making silent wishes, he believes she is a sign. The town's youngest cop, Odette Tucker, believes she is a catalyst that will ignite a seething town still waiting for its own missing girl to come home. But Odette can't look away. She shares a wound that won't close with the mute, one-eyed mystery girl. And she is haunted by her own history with the missing Tru.
Desperate to solve both cases, Odette fights to save the lost girl in the present and to dig up the shocking truth about a fateful night in the past--the night her friend disappeared, the night that inspired her to become a cop, the night that wrote them all a role in the town's dark, violent mythology.
In this twisty psychological thriller, Julia Heaberlin paints unforgettable portraits of a woman and a girl who redefine perceptions of physical beauty and strength.
Spoiler Free Review
I remember thinking when I ordered this book, that it would be an easy "read". The same mystery cadence that I have grown to be so accustomed to: our protagonist stumbles into an investigation, they are faced with a love interest who may or may not be involved, there is distrust and passion and conflict, and finally, the killer is unmasked and the story is solved. Everything is as it should be and all is right in the world again. This book, certainly followed that path, but it took a major detour I did not anticipate and it changed the way the book was going for me.
I listen to audiobooks at a quick speed, 2x or 2.5x, sometimes even 3x. With this audiobook, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to listen to it in the beginning. The first two chapters are narrated by Wyatt and the voice actor's drawl made me have to slow it down a bit to fully understand what was going on and I considered turning the book off and trying something else, but shortly after that, the perspective shifted to Odette, the town's youngest cop, and with that, a new voice actor.
I think the strongest part for me, was the character building. The author managed to sprinkle in the details of each character in between the plot in a way that didn't distract but actually encouraged the storyline through parallels. I think the prose was definitely strong and the storyline felt true to the crime and the characters involved.
--- WARNING! Spoilers Ahead! ---
The biggest thing that surprised me about this book was the shift to Part 2 after Odette makes her discovery on Wyatt's property. I was wholly unprepared for the perspective to shift to Angel/Angie's point of view and for the timeline to jump 5 years into the future. At the end of Part 1, when Odette is in the field and confronted by the killer, I actually checked my phone and was like "how am I only halfway through the book?! what else is going to happen that I still have a few more hours of listening time". It was a pleasant but conflicting surprise. Killing Odette at that point was so sudden and for a while, I didn't make much sense of it until the end, when the killer is revealed.
I bounced back and forth on her death for a while. On the one hand, Odette's character was too smart to not anticipate that going out there would be dangerous. It would have been too hard for me to imagine her putting herself in that situation completely unarmed and unprepared. On the other hand, she had so much faith and trust in Wyatt's innocence that it does make sense that she would think that she would be safe searching on the property.
Wyatt was another conflict for me. While I found it believable that Tru's murder would cause him to "see" Tru and interact with her, I found it unbelievable that it would stop after Odette's murder when Angel/Angie goes to see him and they are stuck in the storm cellar. We are led to believe throughout the entire course of the book that Wyatt still loves Odette. We also have to assume that the memory of watching his sister and father die caused him to repress memories from that day. So for him to completely repress the memory of what happened to Tru but overcome his compulsion so see and continue to communicate with her when Angel/Angie comes back leads the reader to believe that some, if not all, of his memories around Tru's death reveals itself. And if he did recover those memories, then he would have known who killed Tru and ultimately who killed Odette and hid that information from everyone. I recognize that it's entirely possible to chip away at traumatic memories bit by bit, I've done it myself, but it was something I couldn't reconcile for him.
The revelation (pun intended) of the reverend being the killer took me wholeheartedly by surprise. He was never on my radar as a potential killer and I had thought Maggie's husband was a good suspect for a while (though, I cannot remember now why I thought this). I liked that the reverend seemed completely random but his motives were completely sensible for his character. What I did not like was how the story was composed and pieced together in the end. Though I was grateful it was not drawn out and there were no "bad guy revealing his evil plot" monologue, it still felt like the end of the story was rushed and delivered on a platter. I'm not sure how I would rewrite the ending to fit better, but I know that it confused me for a bit. I listened to that chapter three times before I fully understood the sequence of events that led to her uncle killing Tru, Odette's father helping him cover it up, and then the Reverend overhearing the phone call and going to kill Odette.
What I loved, was that Angel/Angie was a character of her own. A young girl who stumbled into the field of an already fully bloomed life and becoming intertwined with the vines of Odette's story. I liked that she had her own backstory and that it gave her more depth into her as a fully functioning character in her own right. I liked that she was the one to take it upon herself to continue Odette's legacy and that the Betty Crocker book was her way into learning who Odette was and how haunted she had been by the death of her best friend. Their kinship was believable and was honest and beautiful. It was also nice to just watch the women do the work? You know? Angel/Angie, gave herself a mission to find the truth and followed through. I think it would have been harder for me to continue if it had been through the eyes of Wyatt or Finn or Rusty because they would only see Odette through the complicated lenses of their respective relationships with her in a way that would taint her strong character. Giving that voice to Angel/Angie, gave us a legacy for Odette and a way to honor the memory of her character arc and how it transformed this young woman.
Overall, I did like the book. It was riveting and I was hooked. I initially put it on to give me something to distract me from walking on the treadmill, but once I started I couldn't stop and I ended up making it the soundtrack for my day of laundry and chores. It turns out that the semi-adrenaline from trying to figure out whodunnit is a great way to keep myself productive on a Saturday.
... now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some reading to do.