My Sister’s Grave

My Sister's Grave_RobertDugoni_22744701



Twenty years ago, 18-year-old Sarah Crosswhite disappeared off the face of the earth following the conclusion of a shooting competition. Sarah had let her older sister, Tracy, win the competition by one shot, which she should not have done. Sarah demanded that Tracy leave with her boyfriend and that she would drive Tracy’s truck home alone, which she should not have done. Sarah chose to take the back road home instead of the interstate, which she had been warned not to do. But she had her reasons for each decision and she thought they were good ones.

The next day Tracy’s truck is found abandoned on that backcountry road, inexplicably out of fuel. Besides Sarah, only three other items are missing from the truck, two of which are Tracy’s black Stetson hat and Tracy’s heavy duster coat. The third is Tracy’s engraved belt buckle that had been awarded to her for “winning” the competition, a belt buckle that Tracy had forced into Sarah’s hand just the day before. And despite a lengthy and exhaustive search, not one of these items, not the hat, not the duster, not the belt buckle, not even Sarah, has ever been seen again.

When Sarah disappeared, Tracy Crosswhite was a high school chemistry teacher. Three years later, Tracy is divorced from a man who wouldn’t or couldn’t give her time to work out her grief and self-imposed guilt. She is estranged from a mother who blames her for leaving Sarah alone. And her physician father has abandoned her also, having spiraled into the swirling pit of grief, alcoholism and self-termination.

Totally alone, but with strength of purpose, Tracy is accepted into the Washington State police academy with the express goal of eventually becoming a Seattle homicide detective. Now, twenty years after Sarah’s disappearance, Tracy has achieved that goal. In fact, she achieved it six years ago.

But today, a call comes through to her supervisor about a body being found. Of course, that is not an unusual circumstance for a homicide unit, but this body is different. This body is only skeletal remains, partially unearthed from a shallow grave, and is located in the vicinity of where Sarah disappeared, an area that had been searched several times by both Tracy and the sheriff himself.

As Tracy stands behind the cordon, watching the forensics team exhume the skeleton, she senses a shift in the tenor of the investigators. A few minutes later, she is rubbing her fingers over the engraving on her competition belt buckle. Sarah has been found.

Now, with a body, Tracy can put one goal behind her and start working on the next – getting Sarah’s case re-opened. And that will be an arduous task since Sarah’s case was considered closed when Edmund House was arrested, tried and convicted of Sarah’s murder. Even without a body, he was convicted after blood and hair were found in his truck and a pair of Sarah’s earrings was found hidden in his workshop.

Tracy had her suspicions about that arrest and trial even before she became a police officer. Based on her experience as a detective, she not only suspects, she knows that the entire case against House has holes in it big enough to drive a truck through. Now that she has the belt buckle, the bones and DNA testing at her fingertips, she needs a new trial for House so she can flush the killer out into the open.

Before you embark upon this novel, I avidly recommend that you first read Dugoni’s 50-page prequel, “The Academy.” It gives a brief overview of Sarah’s disappearance as it relates to Tracy’s acceptance to the police academy. Then the story shifts to her last weeks there before graduation. The events of those weeks give the reader an explicit demonstration of Tracy’s character, her determination and integrity, and her ability to relate to another’s potential as well as to their reality. These scenes are also quite action-filled.

However, if you are a reader who needs your suspense thrillers to be action adventures, shoot-‘em-up-bang-bang from the first chapter, this book will not suit you. If you are a reader who needs your suspense thrillers to contain hot and steamy scenes between the sheets, then this book will not suit you either. This novel is a legal thriller that builds slowly, logically and methodically. It is a novel with characters who have relationships with family, colleagues, neighbors and each other, relationships that are natural, unforced, normal in their progression, and are, while not always happy, apropos to the situation.

Dugoni builds the tension slowly, chapter by chapter, with a shadow here, a threat there, and disappearing taillights out in the distance. He uses flashbacks, written from Tracy’s first person POV, to give the reader an intimate knowledge of what the investigation into Sarah’s disappearance and the subsequent trial entailed.

Between the flashbacks and the real-time scenes, you feel you know what transpired those twenty years ago and who engineered all those holes in Edmund House’s trial. You feel you know where the tension is leading and the probable outcome of the legal proceedings. You may even be ready to just get on with it, jumping to the last chapter to vindicate your decisions.

And then, with five words out of one character’s mouth, you realize that Dugoni has led you right down the proverbial primrose path, tripped you up and dropped you soundly on your gluteus maximus. That slow-building, methodical legal procedural is now that “shoot-‘em-up-bang-bang” action thriller in spades. And you don’t dare choose to, again, be smug enough to think you know who’s going to be alive on the last page.

When Amazon offered “My Sister’s Grave” as one of its four Kindle First pre-publication choices for October 2014, I didn’t even bother to read the promotional blurbs for the other three before purchasing this book. Having already read “The Academy,” I was just waiting for this book to be released anyway. Jumping it to the top of my TBR list, I started it the next day and enjoyed every page.

Dugoni has given us a well-crafted first entry in his new series, his legal research evident and well laid out, and his progression from topic sentence to action to climax resolution never once requiring a suspension of disbelief. And he left us some hooks for another novel, too.

Cover Art From Goodreads


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