I had already purchased and begun reading Lou Berney’s The Long And Faraway Gone when I left for Bouchercon: Death on the Bayou in New Orleans. So I was not surprised when it won the Anthony Award for Best Original Paperback mystery novel for 2016.
Berney has a hauntingly human and almost casual style, centered around a premise that hooks you from the beginning. What happens to the teenage survivor of a tragedy? The book intertwines two barely related tragedies from the 1980s in the characters of the lone survivor of a robbery turned massacre and the younger sister of a missing teen who vanished.
Wyatt wonders why the robbers killed all his co-workers at the movie theater, but left him alive? Julianna is left forever waiting ‘at the fair’ for her sister Genevieve to come back from an errand that was supposed to take ten minutes. In both cases, there have been no answers for over twenty-five years.
How do you move forward? How do you build a life? Can you ever be close to anyone again, when your closest friends were brutally murdered? How do you stop putting your own life on hold while you pursue every whisper of a lead that will bring you answers? What happens when there will never be any closure?
Berney is equally adept at interweaving the past and the present and multiple viewpoints that leave you aching over the near-miss, the misunderstood, the unknowable. All these characters are damaged, a few are despicable, but all are engrossing. I was haunted by this book for the last several weeks, because like the characters we are left with no neat answers.
For me the message was not in the huge violent tragedy, but the everyday tragedies of people left behind, who can never quite get it together or accept that they can never find the real truth. Because we can never really know what is in someone else’s heart. The miracle is finding the courage to choose love and a purposeful life in spite of that.
The Long and Faraway Gone is published by William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins.