About The Book
A body burns in the high desert hills. A boy walks into a fire station, pale with the shock of a grisly discovery. A middle school teacher worries when her colleague is late for work. When the body is identified as local math teacher Adam Merkel, a small Nevada town is rocked to its core by a brutal and calculated murder.
In the seven months he worked at Lovelock’s middle school, the quiet and seemingly unremarkable Adam Merkel had formed a bond with just one of his students: Sal Prentiss, a lonely sixth grader who lives with his uncles on a desolate ranch in the hills. It is Sal who finds Adam’s body, charred almost beyond recognition, half a mile from his uncles’ compound.
Nora Wheaton, the school’s social studies teacher, sensed a kindred spirit in Adam – another soul bound to Lovelock by guilt and duty. After his death, she delves into his past for clues to who killed him. Yet, the truth about Adam’s murder may lie closer to home. For Sal’s grief seems shaded with fear, and Nora suspects he knows more than he’s telling about his favourite teacher’s death.
This unforgettable thriller brings a small American town to vivid life, filled with complex, troubled characters wrestling with the weight of the past, the promise of the future and the bitter freedom that forgiveness can bring.
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. Even though I read a lot of crime fiction I’ve never read anything like The Distant Dead. Initially I didn’t see the connection between the tale of the young boy from thousands of years ago and modern day but it does appear later in the novel when you see the passion that Sal, Nora and her father had for local history.
The drama starts almost immediately when the burned body of the school’s Maths teacher Adam is found by Sal one of his pupils. Most of the narrative fluctuates between Nora and Sal and shows how they felt about Adam’s death. I found it quite sad that both of them seemed to be his only friends. That sadness increased when it was revealed why he had settled there and what happened to him in the past.
But Adam wasn’t the only one who’d experienced tragedy, both Nora and Sal had suffered life changing events. I felt a lot of sympathy for all of them. All three of them coped in different ways and Nora and Sal’s life touched me in equal measures. The relationships that they both had with their surviving family felt real, Nora’s bitterness but loyalty and Sal’s neediness combined with fear. I didn’t connect to Adam the same way, the barrier he put in place also had an effect on me.
Most of the investigation seemed to be done by Nora, despite her not being a member of the police. She was a teacher, a friend to Adam and was willing to be there for Sal. She seemed to be the only one who wanted to know what had led to Adam’s death. I found myself fascinated by her character, her love for her father despite what he did and the way she gave up on her dreams and stayed in her home town.
Sal was a character I adored. The loss of his Mum, the fear of his uncles and his attempts to understand the passion that Adam felt for maths. I also had a lot of appreciation for his desire to be accepted by the popular children in his class and for his stories that showed him the way to be in real life.
The ending was completely unexpected but worked well, I really had no idea who was responsible for Adam’s death. I just felt a slight sense of relief which is impossible to explain.
I found this to be a crime novel that was also about loss, acceptance and friendship.