Currently working as a private investigator in Las Vegas, Nevada, Wyatt Rivers accepts a short-term assignment that will take him to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, a place of memories he has chosen to leave in the past. When a friend requests a favor
(a case of harassment against his wife’s relative), Wyatt plans to be in and out of the city in under a week. Wyatt is in familiar territory in Oklahoma City, with its “big-sky prairie sunsets” and a host of unanswered questions from 1986. Twenty-five years later, Wyatt is still troubled by the event that changed his life, the armed robbery of a movie theater where five other employees were murdered, Wyatt the only survivor. Changing his name and reinventing himself has not brought Wyatt an answer to the question that haunts him: why was he left alive when all the others were killed?
That fateful year in Oklahoma City holds another mystery, home to another tragedy with lasting consequences: the disappearance of Genevieve Rosales at the fairgrounds.
Her younger sister, Julianna, only twelve at the time, has been left to wonder forever what happened to her older sibling. Now grown up and a nurse, Julianna has been unable to free herself from that fateful event, obsessively trolling the web for images and clues, anything that may yield a lead. There is one man she remembers from that day, a man working a booth
who flirted with Genevieve and suggested a party later at his trailer. Julianna is desperate to talk to the man,
an ex-con recently returned to the city (even though he had an alibi and wasn’t a suspect), hopeful that he might contribute some small detail to the puzzle. Undaunted even after all these years, Julianna refuses to acknowledge her limitations in furthering the investigation, plotting to ambush the once-handsome man with her questions.
While Wyatt tackles the harassment case of his client, the colorful and eccentric Candace Kilkenny, he can’t resist returning to the scene of the murders in 1986, reliving the memories of summer nights at the Pheasant Run Twin Theater and the camaraderie of friends trapped in a low-paying job ready to start futures cut short by the robbery that stole their lives. Without spending too much time in the past with either Wyatt or Julianna, Berney’s inclusion of those short chapters gives extra depth to his protagonists’ struggles and their inability to make peace with the tragedies that have defined the years since.
While Wyatt is often glib, with an offbeat sense of humor that is a positive attribute in his work as a PI, Julianna is far more serious, eschewing any interest in the world around her.
Both remain trapped in the confusion of unsolved mysteries, and both are compelled to push ahead when sensing an answer is near. Though their paths cross as Wyatt gets closer to learning the identity of the culprit responsible for Kilkenny’s
unremitting harassment, each remains consumed by a solitary quest for truth that
isolates them from others and diminishes their opportunity to appreciate the
present. In a laconic novel that twists and turns with the idiosyncrasies of
daily life, past and present, the occasional frissons of danger aren’t enough to
dissuade either protagonist from an inevitable confrontation with the truth.