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by Chris Whitaker

"Raine sometimes complains that nothing exciting is ever gonna happen in Grace again. Daddy told her careful what you wish for."

Everyone loves Summer Ryan. A model student and musical prodigy, she's a ray of light in the struggling small town of Grace, Alabama - especially compared to her troubled sister, Raine.

Then Summer goes missing. Grace is already simmering, and with this new tragedy the police have their hands full keeping the peace. Only Raine throws herself into the search, supported by a most unlikely ally.

But perhaps there was always more to Summer than met the eye . . .

Grace, Alabama, a small backwater town with a tightly-knit and equally tense community.


A teenage girl, Summer Ryan, has gone missing. The town is searching for her, the residents in fear that an abductor called The Bird is active once more. The Bird is so called because a suspect was seen with a girl slung over his shoulder. This big guy looked like he had feathers but the witness was drunk at the time. The nickname stuck. This has led to Hell's Gate National Forest becoming a no go zone.  


The newly missing girl, Summer, narrates some chapter in first person, with a foreboding present from the start. She is a talented kid, musically-gifted, bright and a good god-fearing girl. Her twin sister, Raine, has ‘other’ qualities. Plucky and determined, she wouldn’t describe herself as a good girl, more a gum-chewing, cig-smoking wild child. 


After her sister disappears, Raine leads a search, roping in friends Noah and Purv. Noah is infatuated with Raine but the bond he has with his best mate Purv is perhaps even stronger. Noah is a fine creation. With a challenging home life and health issues he garners sympathy but it’s his desire to be a cop, like his old man, that’s most touching. Speaking of cops, I should mention the Detective, Black. He must find out if Summer ran away or if something more sinister occurred but he has plenty of distractions. The town Sherriff is already laden with guilt over the death of his partner when the townsfolk add further pressure on his shoulders. Black is the self-destructive type, with drugs and alcohol his poison of choice to drown away sorrows. The community doubt his ability to keep them safe and different elements soon take matters in hand.


Another man with a guilty conscience is Pastor Lumen. He has his problems but is infinitely more popular than his predecessor. There are many more well-defined characters in this amusing, powerful and compelling novel. I love that the way teenagers Raine, Noah and Purv go out hunting down the clues, alongside Black’s investigation. In a town of suspicion and fear, the tendency to reach for a gun or the bible is well portrayed, and their dangers explored. The plot is well constructed and the writing zings.

About Chris Whitaker:

Chris Whitaker's debut novel, Tall Oaks, was published in 2016 by Bonnier Zaffre. It was a Guardian crime book of the month as well as featuring in Crime Time's top 100 books of 2016 and BuzzFeed's incredible summer reads. Chris's second novel, All The Wicked Girls, will be published in autumn 2017. Chris lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and two young sons.

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