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It's 1989, and Matt Garrison is getting ready to graduate high school and leave for college like any other 18-year-old. Except that he isn't your typical 18-year-old: he's still haunted six years later by the drowning death of his cousin. And then one night he finds himself in the bed of his best friend's mother Crystal, and then a couple hours later finds her dead body in the bathtub. Was it suicide because of what she'd done with him? Or was she murdered by someone close to both of them?
"Redemption Lake" is a murder mystery and has all the twists and turns you'd expect from the genre, as Matt tries to cover up his presence at the house the night of the murder, and then discover who actually killed Crystal in the face of confusion and planted evidence. Both he and the police come up with one suspect after another, including Matt himself, only to discard them as fresh and surprising evidence keeps coming to light.
At the same time, this isn't your typical murder mystery. It's at least as much an exploration of guilt, redemption, and what it's like to be 18, when you're not really a child any more but not quite an adult either. Matt is capable of acting like an adult at times, but he also acts out impulsively in the face of stress, and bursts out like a child when the "real" adults around him let him down. His story is told in the third person, but with simple, natural language that fits a teenage boy without sounding stylized. So while the plot is that of a detective story, the prose style is closer to that of a certain type of literary fiction, the kind that seeks not to stand between the reader and the characters, but to put the reader directly into the characters' thoughts and feelings. The result is an affecting immediacy that brings home Matt's adolescent doubts and struggles, placing them front and center in the story.
While Matt's teenage experience of loss of childhood is at the center of the story, there's also a separate but related theme of parents who lose childhood in a different way: through the loss of a child. Detective Radhauser, the main secondary character in the book, is facing the anniversary of the death of his son, and he encounters another character who has also lost a child. All of them, like Matt himself, have to come to terms with what has happened and their own inadvertent culpability in the death of the person they would least want to harm. It is tragic, but the tragedy is balanced by the redemption promised in the title: lives may end, but life goes on. "Redemption Lake" is a different kind of mystery novel, but one well worth reading for anyone seeking something a little more thoughtful than ordinary genre fare.
My thanks to the author for providing a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.