Sheridan “Danny” Doyle is a forensic psychologist. He evaluates people who have committed heinous crimes, testifies at trials, and publishes books on his professional experiences. But the case he's unraveling in One of Us is his own family's.
When Danny was a child, his mother was convicted of killing his baby sister and spent the rest of his childhood in prison. Danny was left with only his abusive, alcoholic father in the tiny, depressing coal-mining town of Lost Creek. Now, armored with advanced degrees and designer clothes, he's heading back to his old hometown to care for his 96-year-old grandfather Tommy, one of the few bright spots in his otherwise wretched formative years.
It turns out Tommy is still pretty hearty for a former coal miner in his 90s, and doesn't need Danny's help that badly. However, Danny decides to stay around town after discovering a body near the gallows where a group of (mostly) innocent men were executed years ago at the hands of the wealthy owner of the mine. The incident lives on in the memories of the town's residents, and in some ways little has changed since, with the mine owner's great-grandson still living in the enormous estate outside of town while the rest of the population rots in poverty.
The corpse at the gallows proves to be just one of several deadly incidents in Lost Creek. With the help of police detective Rafe Malloy, a kindly role model from his childhood, Danny works to uncover the person behind it all. It quickly becomes apparent that Danny isn't just solving a recent spate of murders, he's also coming close to the truth of what happened all those years ago, when his baby sister's body was found buried in their backyard.
O'Dell's strength is in developing quirky, memorable characters, and that's where most of the book's appeal comes from. 96-year-old Tommy stubbornly continues to drive his old truck and live alone in his old house. Rafe the police detective is a comically bad dresser, mixing colors and patterns seemingly at random. Scarlet, the daughter of the mine owner and occasional narrator, emerges as a cold-blooded sociopath, slinking ominously around town in a mink coat. And there's Danny, who wears Armani suits to project confidence but inside still feels like an outcast.
One of Us is a quick-reading, absorbing mystery that successfully avoids the formulaic and simplistic. O'Dell introduces so many strands to the narrative, from the past to the present, from Danny's immediate family to the larger population of Lost Creek, that it doesn't seem possible to cut through the lies and the years to get to the truth. But eventually, Danny does, and the resolution is surprising and satisfying.
With regards to NetGalley and Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books for the advance copy. On sale August 19.