59. Fourth of July Creek: Smith Henderson

I was offered this by Random House UK/ Cornerstone via Net Galley. I knew nothing of the author or the plot except the publisher’s blurb but thought it sounded interesting. I was not disappointed.

Fourth of July Creek follows social worker Pete Snow as he tries to juggle some difficult cases and his own car wreck of a personal life in poor, rural Montana in the early 1980s. His main challenge begins when Benjamin is found, malnourished and poorly clothed, wandering in a local school in which he is not enrolled. Ben is the son of Jeremiah Pearl an extreme religious conspiracy theorist who thinks the end of times is coming and keeps his family away from all corrupting contact with the outside world. Slowly and with great difficulty, Pete gains their trust and discovers more about their lives. Meanwhile, his own teenage daughter goes missing and the reader follows her tragic trajectory interspersed with Pete’s attempts to find her and work his cases.

This is a powerful and arresting novel. The plot develops in an intriguing and surprising way. Pete is an interesting central character but is a little close to becoming a stereotype… the maverick social worker with a drinking problem who cares so much about his cases to hell with the rules etc etc. The writing is cool and clean, with a great sense of time and place coming through and all the voices sound authentic. For a debut novel, I think this is quite an impressive achievement with a lot to say about American culture, politics and society.

4.5 stars

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