Brown constructs her novel on the premise of a true crime. Protagonist Bellamy Price, only twelve when her sister, Susan Lyston, is murdered, writes a novel inspired by that event. Susan’s is one of many deaths when a Memorial Day celebration in Austin, Texas, is struck by a tornado. The aftermath reveals many casualties, but only one a murder victim. Susan’s former boyfriend, Denton Carter, is a suspect, but Allen Strickland is convicted; the real killer might never have been caught. The PR furor over Bellamy’s novel, in which she attempts to find closure over Susan’s death, shakes loose skeletons long-buried, from the former lead detective to the case prosecutor—now a wealthy businessman with a high profile—as well as inciting the rage of the convicted man’s brother: Strickland is murdered in prison.
Brown’s format provides a number of diverse characters with ulterior motives and conflicting personal agendas. Mystery is shrouded in suspicious activities that are often at cross-purposes, with shocking family histories and the frisson of sexual attraction added for spice. This is Brown’s territory: though her characters aren’t particularly deep, they are colorful and entertaining, like a “killer” episode of Dallas. She has an unerring eye for the details and nagging questions that draw a reader into her complex web.
While Bellamy’s father awaits the end of his life, his daughter, unexpectedly teaming with Susan’s ex-boyfriend Dent—on whom she had a secret schoolgirl crush eighteen years ago—pursues her own investigation, leading to the answer she seeks, but not without a number of threatening situations from a mentally unbalanced man bent on revenge. Family members scramble to hide their secrets from exposure, worried that Bellamy might piece together the jumbled images of the day of the murder, impressions that have thus far remained locked in her subconscious.
The presence of ruggedly handsome airline pilot Denton Carter, Susan’s ex, injects the plot with steamy romantic interludes. Their interactions are fueled by Denton’s adversarial approach to anything related to the Lyston family, who pointed police toward him as the most likely suspect in Susan’s homicide. Denton and Bellamy engage in a relationship that fluctuates wildly between attraction and rejection, his treatment at the hands of the lead detective and the prosecutor not persuading him to be particularly sympathetic to Bellamy’s cause. Still, he is a pilot, and since expedience dictates Bellamy haste in moving from one place to another, from the hospital in Austin to more remote venues where people don’t want to be found, it is foolish not to hire his services.
Eventually the tragic events of that Memorial Day are revealed, a dysfunctional family torn apart by an out-of-control teen exposed in all its ugliness, long-hidden secrets freely discussed in the media. Without skipping a beat, Brown keeps the tension high and the actions unpredictable to the last page, Bellamy’s nightmare nearly over. Well, nearly...