The story opens with a letter from Sam Picken to her best friend, Jessie Spaulding, questioning Jessie's professional behavior. As a judge, Jessie had just presided over a disturbing murder case, deeply connected to her past as well as Sam's. From there, John Macleod takes you back to the hardscrabble coal mining communities of West Virginia, deftly setting the stage for what is to follow.
The book is a legal thriller with underlying themes of ardent friendship, imperfect marriage and familial relationships woven into the fabric of coal mining culture and the legal profession. The story begins and ends with a grisly murder. In tandem are subplots and layered events. I raised my eyebrows in numerous aha moments as links between the scenes were adroitly revealed.
The author delineates the background of the main characters in the third person, building a foundation that helps readers understand how past events cascade to decisions of conscience in the future. Macleod paints a colorful portrait of Sam, Jessie, their parents and the corrupt industry tyrants that nearly took them down.
The ending is full of jaw-dropping surprises. Sam and Jessie are bedeviled by the conclusions they each draw about the brutal murder and those involved. Even after questions of guilt and innocence are resolved, the author refrains from tying up loose ends with a perfect bow, rightly so since that is not how life is.
As if the characters were real, I finished the book wondering if Sam and Jessie, who had never kept secrets from each other, would ever be able to fully share what they now hold close to the vest. That was how connected I felt to the characters. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys legal thrillers, mysteries, and stories of complex relationships that test your moral compass.
Gail has project management experience and specializes in writing for a corporate audience. Book reviews on Reedsy/Discovery include memoir, novels, mystery & crime, fiction, legal & medical thrillers, essays and short stories.