A Brilliant Death by Robin Yocum / Review by Laura Stewart Schmidt

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A Brilliant Death

By Robin Yocum

Seventh Street Books
$15.95
ISBN 978-1633881280
Published 04/05/2016

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Killer Nashville Reader’s Choice Award

A Brilliant Death

Killer Nashville review by Laura Stewart Schmidt

A review should avoid gushing. But I have nothing bad and everything good to say about this gem of a book. A Brilliant Death by Robin Yocum (Seventh Street Books) is the story of Mitch and his best friend Travis, growing up in Ohio steel country in the early 1970s. Travis’ mother disappeared years ago, and it is presumed she drowned while absconding with a lover—at least, that’s what everyone thinks, and it’s the story Travis’ father, “Big Frank,” has always told his son.

But Travis doesn’t believe him. He has no reason to—Big Frank is a violent bully who terrorizes everyone around him. Travis is convinced his mother would never run away and leave him with Big Frank. Therefore, Travis reasons, she must have been murdered. But why has no one ever found her? With no other family around, and no one other than Mitch who cares about him, Travis wants to find his mother’s body and know once and for all what really happened to her.

Mitch signs on to “Project Amanda” out of love and loyalty for his friend, and immediately finds himself doing work more dangerous than he imagined. Project Amanda is a multi-year endeavor, requiring detective work worthy of the FBI. It’s an uphill battle because the townspeople are so afraid of Big Frank they won’t talk. The law enforcement officers who investigated the case are no help—they may be involved in the deaths of Amanda and her unknown companion, and one cop went to prison for tampering with evidence. As Mitch and Travis get closer to the truth, Big Frank gets more hostile and threatening, and no one will intercede for the boys.

Big Frank could have been perhaps more dimensional; he is so evil as to be almost a caricature. But everything else in the book is close to perfection. Mitch and Travis are sympathetic characters with compelling motivation, and the Vietnam-era Ohio River Valley comes to life through Mitch’s descriptions and experiences. Yocum is a master at creating and building suspense. The boys’ mission appears so treacherous the reader is almost afraid to keep reading for fear of what will happen to them and their occasional ally. But it is worth the roller-coaster ride to take Mitch and Travis’ journey, culminating in an ending which is redemptive without being unrealistic. Mr. Yocum has a new fan, and I can’t wait for his next book.

Laura Stewart Schmidt: A lifelong reader and writer, inspired as a child by Harriet the Spy and Emily of New Moon. She minored in criminal justice in the hope that it would make her a more effective and knowledgeable mystery writer. Her Young Adult novel, Sweeter Than Life, was published by Martin Sisters Publishing in 2015. She has spent several years working as a community education coordinator, encouraging parents to read to their preschoolers and starting reading clubs for middle-school students. She also worked as a family court advocate for at-risk youth and parents suffering from substance addiction.  Laura is also a member of Sisters in Crime and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.