Libby Day is an adult now, but her life has been shaped and twisted by the bloody murders of her mother and sisters 24 years ago. Libby, who was seven at the time, escaped from her home during the massacre, hiding in the forest. She lost some toes and part of a finger from frostbite --- the very least of her losses that night. At seven, she testified against her brother, Ben, who is incarcerated for life.
As a child, Libby lived with her aunt and other assorted relatives. Now she resides in a rental she cares nothing about, in a neighborhood she calls "Over There That Way." Her long-term depression is augmented by the fact that she is running out of the money she inherited when she turned 18, cash that was donated by people moved by the plucky survivor "Baby Day" and then invested for her. Libby knows she is not able to work, so when she receives an invitation from a man named Lyle who offers to pay for her to show up at his club meeting, she calls him.
Lyle's group is obsessed with true crimes, including the slaughter of the Days. Libby is instantly on guard, as she knows many believe Ben did not murder their mother and sisters. These people, mostly women, are rabid fans of Ben and have screamed at Libby, insisting that her long-ago testimony was forced on her. Although she wavers, not wanting to subject herself to more of this kind of abuse, Lyle's offer to pay her $700 plus the opportunity to sell "souvenirs," such as family letters, persuades her to attend. While the meeting is extremely uncomfortable for Libby, she is struck by the club members' conviction that Ben is innocent and that their worthless father, Runner Day, is the guilty party.
When Libby gets home, she can't help but remember all that happened the night of the murders. She wonders if her certainty about her brother's guilt could possibly be wrong. Why, for example, when she was hiding from him in the woods, did Ben yell for her to stay where she was? Libby is pulled further into investigating her family and the murders when Lyle's group bribes her to visit her brother in prison.
In alternating chapters, we follow Libby's quest today and learn of the lives of various key people during the time leading up to the murders. These characters are fully realized --- so true they could step off the page. Libby is a horribly flawed yet sympathetic protagonist. Grim foreboding pervades the story as readers are tantalized with zigzagging clues from now and from 1985. Those hints of what truly happened to the Day family feel painfully, teasingly paced as they forge an irresistible trail to the truth of what happened that night.
This sad, violent, sometimes disheartening tale is the opposite of a feel-good read (although not without its share of rich satisfaction and hard-won redemption). It is, however, tremendously compelling. I devoured the book in a 12-hour span: Could. Not. Stop. Reading. Although some might wonder if too much action could coincidentally take place in one short period, others may well realize that bizarre concurrences do happen in real life, too.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on December 29, 2010