Distant Sons

Algonquin. Oct. 2023. 400p. ISBN 9781643753591. $29. SUSPENSE
Johnston’s (The Current) novel about deep, eternal concerns is written in the guise of crime fiction: how much control do we have over our destinies, and how much responsibility do we bear for bad things that happen around us? But also, once they happen, do we have a chance at redemption—or do we get only one bite at the apple? Across three years in the 1970s, three children disappear. Their parents still grieve for them. The residue of unproved guilt hovers around Marion Devereaux, a recluse who’s never been arrested or convicted of anything but doesn’t seem even close to innocent. In the present day, Sean Courtland, 26 and drifting, accepts a job from Devereaux, doing carpentry and plumbing. Taking the job kicks off a chain of events. Ultimately, it leads to three people dead and another in the hospital with a gunshot wound and, beyond that, the discovery of what actually took place back in the 1970s.
VERDICT This disturbing but ultimately redeeming story may remind detective-fiction aficionados of Thomas H. Cook’s Mortal Memory. Like Cook, Johnston writes with care for what words mean and how they hit. An exceptional novel.
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