1970: On a rain-swept highway outside Prentiss, Mississippi,
15-year-old Polly Deschamps reaches a crossroads that will change
her miserable life. She abandons her mother’s car on the side
of the highway, trusting the police to find and return it, recounts
the $11 she stole from her mother’s drunken boyfriend, steps
onto the shoulder of the highway, and sticks out her thumb. Will it
be Jackson or New Orleans? The trucker who pulls over tells her
he’s headed for Bourbon Street, which is “no place for
a young white girl,” so he lets her out in Jackson Square.
The tarot card reader is the only woman, except for the hookers,
who is visible in the darkened park, so she seats herself at the
gypsy’s table, and Polly’s fate is sealed.
Fifteen hundred miles away, a young boy named Dylan has just
been sentenced to the psychiatric facility in a juvenile detention
center in Du Walt, Minnesota for taking an axe to his parents, his
baby sister and the family cat. Only his brother, Richard,
survived the bloodbath, and Dylan, dubbed “Butcher Boy”
by the title-hungry media, sets foot on his own journey to an
uncertain future as his fate is sealed as well.
Now cut to 2007: Dr. Polly Deschamps, ever hungry for knowledge
and eager to lift herself out of the squalid poverty of her
childhood, has worked hard, earned her way through high school and
university, and is now a tenured and respected English professor at
a local New Orleans college. Recently divorced with two young
daughters, her social life is restricted to fellow educators until
she meets Marshall Marchand, a dashing, successful architect whose
company has landed a major contract to help reconstruct New Orleans
following the Katrina disaster.
When Marshall and Polly first meet in Jackson Square, still
her favorite haunt, he is smitten for the first time in his
life. He has spent his adult years working at what he loves ---
designing buildings and collecting art --- but he had not allowed
himself time for a serious relationship. He and his brother,
Danny, a successful owner of a chain of boutique drugstores, live
in a condominium in the craftsman neighborhood of New Orleans, and
the successful bachelors lead a genteel and quiet but stylish
social life. Polly’s appearance in Marshall’s life is
as alarming to Danny as it is alluring to Marshall, and Danny
cautions his brother to take it slowly. Their romance leads
the two lonely people on a path of horrifying discoveries that set
the stage for a thriller of Shirley Jackson proportions.
Nevada Barr, who has 10 bestselling mysteries under her belt,
may be familiar to readers as the creator of U.S. National Park
Ranger Anna Pigeon, solver of murders in exotic wilderness
settings. No stranger to building suspense and creating
page-turning chase scenes with spine-chilling climaxes, Barr has
broken out of the series mold with this new cast of characters.
Additionally, 13 ½ goes much further as a psychological
thriller than Anna Pigeon novels, as Barr delves deeply into the
psyche of the young murderer through his psychiatrist, his own
attempts to reconcile his crime of which he has no memory, and his
surviving and overly protective brother. The killer’s
adult persona has grown even more devious as he matures, and Polly
and her young family find themselves drawn into a deadly web of
terror and deceit.
Barr diabolically pulls the reader along through enigmatic
journal entries made up of personal comments about major multiple
murders from years past: from serial killer Charles Starkweather,
to Susan Smith and Andrea Yates (who both kill their own children),
and Scott Peterson (who cold-bloodedly kills his pregnant wife).
Who has written these notes and why?
Are you ready for a good, chilling read? Ready to pull the
shades, turn on the lights and stay up all night? Nevada Barr is
right up there with Dean Koontz, Stephen King and Thomas Harris. If
you can put this book down before you’ve finished the last
few chapters, you possess nerves of steel. Will Barr be ready
to return to her Anna Pigeon series, or are there more
psychological thrillers in that devious mind still waiting to be
written? Either way, we’re all eagerly anticipating her
Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 5, 2011