Review by: Mark Palm
If you think that your family is screwed I up I encourage you to read One of Us by Tawni O'Dell. Inside is a family as twisted as a rope. If your family doesn’t seem better by the time you are done, you have my sympathy. I also would encourage you to read this book because it's an exceptionally good thriller; taut, tense, and chock-full of well-drawn characters.
The protagonist is Dr. Sheridan Doyle, fastidious and rather famous forensic psychologist whose specialty is twisted killers. His unusual choice of career isn't surprising when you get a look at his background, raised in a run-down mining town in southwestern Pennsylvania by an abusive father and a mother who spent most of his life in an insane asylum after being accused of killing Danny's sister.
The story starts when Dr. Doyle returns to his hometown to visit his aging grandfather, Tommy, who was really the only good influence in Danny's early life. Even he, though, seems to have spent an inordinate amount of time telling Danny horrifying tales about the Nellie O Neills, a rebellious group of early union miners reminiscent of the Molly McGuires, who ended up dancing at the end of a rope. Danny finds a dead body at the Lost Creek Gallows, a bizarre historical monument to the aforementioned miners. Danny's interest piques when it turns out that the body is connected to the wealthy family of the robber baron responsible for the miner's death. With the help of the idiosyncratic veteran detective Rafe, a father figure for Danny, he begins to pursue the killer, certain that he is dealing with someone who has all the hallmarks of a serial murderer.
This is a gripping tale, and Ms. O’Dell does an exceptional job of melding the past and the present, but the book really hits its stride when the story starts to begin to become dangerously close to revealing startling truths about Danny, his past, and his family.
All of this makes for an exciting thriller, but there's more to this book than just chills. Ms. O’Dell's invocation of Danny's grimy hometown-not unlike my own hometown, with steel-mills taking the place of coal mines, is spot-on. Danny is a wonderful character, complicated compelling, and vivid, and all of the supporting character are nearly as good. Ms. O'Dell's prose, told through Danny's first person narration is evocative yet lean enough not to get in the way of the plot.
I really haven't mentioned the plot too much, and I am not going to, because it has as many twists and curves as the Thunderbolt, a wooden rollercoaster from the amusement park near my old home town, and did I tell you about that family? You would have to go back to The Last Kind Words by Tom Piccarilli to find such a demented crew. So read this book, and the Tom Piccarilli too while you are at it, two for the price of one.