It's refreshing to stumble upon a thriller that avoids predictable plot devices, something Milchman does throughout her well-plotted page turner. I was almost fooled in the beginning, when Nora Hamilton awakens late one morning in her home in New York's Adirondack Mountains only to find that her husband, Brendan, has committed suicide by hanging himself. The one anomaly is the rope he has chosen—old and frayed, clearly of some psychological significance.
Nora is too overwhelmed with the results of her horrific discovery to consider the type of rope has used, desperate to understand why Brendan would have gone to this extreme rather than sharing his burden with her. The fact that Nora didn't know anything was wrong only exacerbates her distress and serves as the impetus for her determination to learn more about what pushed her husband to such a terrible decision.
The novel takes a decidedly gothic turn as the new widow approaches her mother-in-law, Eileen, an acerbic, resentful woman who has never forgiven her elder son for the accidental death of his younger brother years earlier. The woman is hostile and emotionally unavailable, retreating to a cellar room, surrounded by images captured before the death of her young son. Stumbling over Eileen's secret room, Nora makes some discoveries that suggest a starting place for unraveling Brendan's troubled past and recent actions.
There is an unfortunate tendency in the town of Wedeskyull to leave front doors unlocked. Because of this common practice, Nora finds easy access to Eileen's house but is also vulnerable to intruders in her home, a reality that creates a pervasive sense of threat, the imminent approach of danger. Nora has accepted her husband's devotion to his fellow officers in the Wedeskyull PD, comforted by the chief's fatherly advice and concern, welcoming as well as the constant attentions of Brendan's partner, Club Mitchell. But the more she investigates those final days, the more resistance she gets from the department. Suspicion of everyone in the police department gradually edges out Nora's willingness to accept their assistance.
Turning to a journalist who has moved into the area (Nora is helping restore his house), Nora learns about unusual recent activities in the department. Wherever she goes, a patrol car is not far behind, a subtle reminder that she is being watched. The risk grows for Nora and her friend, his home destroyed by fire, all his records destroyed. Still, Nora is driven to understand Brendan's desperation, pursuing leads even in the face of escalating danger regardless of the consequences, now a far cry from the quiet, supportive wife who woke to find her husband hanging at the end of a frayed rope.
Eventually uncovering the horror that drove Brendan to his death, Nora nearly loses everything, including her life. Faced with the corruption of a small town, an ugly truth festering in silence for years, a deeply dysfunctional family, and old love affair and the intimidation of an entire community by authorities, she probes dark secrets festering beneath the surface of the town. Milchman's characters are well drawn, some particularly memorable, Brendan's tragic action the sad consequence of a commitment to a place without a conscience.