First I’d like to thank Seventh Street Books for the review copy of A Brilliant Death. This book reached out, grabbed me, and pulled me in like no book has done in a long time. Robin Yocum has just been added to my Read-Anything-He-Writes-Including-His-Grocery-List List. A Brilliant Death catapulted me into a time and place and made me feel like I was there.
The narrator is Mitch Malone, and his best friend is Travis Baron. They’re high school students in the town of Brilliant Ohio in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Brilliant is a real places, Mr. Yocum’s hometown in fact. That’s proably a main reason the town described in the book seems so real.
Travis’s mother Amanda died when he was a baby, killed when a barge sunk a riverboat she and her lover were on in the middle of the night. At least, that’s the story everyone believes.
Travis’s father, Big Frank, is a long haul trucker who was on the road the night his wife died. He doesn’t have much time for his son, unless it’s to beat him. So not surprisingly, Travis spends a lot of time at Mitch’s house.
Also not surprising is the desire Travis has to know more about his mother. He can’t help but overhear the stories people in town tell about how she died. It doesn’t help that her body was never found, nor was the body of her lover. And since no one turned up missing in the area, it’s widely believed that he managed to swim to shore and is still alive.
What is surprising are some of the things Travis learns about his mother. Not everything everyone “knows” turns out to be true.
Yocum does a great job of peeling the layers of the mystery away, like digging through the layers of an paleontology dig. There are plenty of twists in this one, each one believeable and completely logical. Mitch and Travis come across as thoroughly real people. They each have their motivations and quirks. The amount of detail is especially well handled, with things you think are there just for background turning out to be important. Pay close attention to the memorial service in Chapter 2. Most of what follows is flashback, and there are some details that are significant in that chapter.
The author bio on the back cover of A Brilliant Death says Mr. Yocum is a former crime and investigative reporter. It shows in his writing. From the disgraced detective who treated Amanda’s death as a hoicide to the ways the boys go about gathering evidence, there’s a clear logic in what we’re told and when. Remember, details.
In academic circles, there are arguments among people with too much education and too much time on their hands over whether genre can also be Literature. That’s with a capital “L”. I submit that A Brilliant Death is Literature. And a fantastic read.
There’s a prologue in which Mitch setting the stage where he mentions he has two cousins. All three were born a few months apart. He says that all three of them had a common bond between them and that was murder. But their stories aren’t his to tell. (The cousins pop in and out of this story.) I really hope that means we’re going to see two more novels from Mr. Yocum.
A Brilliant Death is highly recommended.