Killer Nashville Book of the Day

The Martyr’s Brother by Rona Simmons
Reviewed by Kate Proffitt

Alicia Blake is certain of three things: She has an unhealthy dependence on Starbucks coffee, she is overqualified for her underpaid security job at the elite Riverside Centre mall in Atlanta, and she will go to any cost to ensure the safety of her eleven year old son, Kyle.  

After the sudden and shocking death of her husband, killed abruptly by a bomb that wiped out a small village in the Middle East, Alicia finds herself living in constant state of fear. It’s been five years, and although she mends herself a little more with each passing day, grief has hollowed her, changed her, and she is terrified it will find her again. Although Riverside’s concept of fighting crime involves knowing how to change a flat tire and being an adequate giver of directions, Alicia can’t help but feel that something is wrong, terribly wrong, and that the seemingly idyllic shopping center that she works in is about to morph into something terrifying.

Rona Simmons’ The Martyr’s Brother presents a thrilling, bone-chilling, realistic scenario of terrorism and the devastation it creates. Simmons writes from the perspective of four characters, all working toward different outcomes, equally captivating, and paints a vivid picture of the unification they discover despite their different backgrounds. From the first page, Simmons pulls the audience into a world of deception, manipulation, and violence within terrorism, and she portrays firsthand how devastating an impact this type of violent hatred carries. There is a rawness, an unshakeable honesty that is prevalent as Simmons depicts terrorism. Terrorism, a topic that is universally relatable, but it is something that seems to be only murmured about or whispered in the most private of circumstances. Simmons strips away secrecy and exposes deception in a way that pierces the heart of terrorism, and the way in which this novel is written is engrossing and beautiful and heartbreaking in it’s honesty. One is left with the aching understanding of how devastating loss can be and that brokenness within the world is so prevalent, but Simmons also incorporates a sense of hope, of moving forward, of the strength that remains when grief fades.

Through her novel, Simmons conveys there is always good, no matter how bleak the bad is, and that choosing to fight for the good regardless of how little, how tiny and insignificant it may appear, is worth it despite the vast and impossible-to-ignore grief that is also present. Alicia believes there is good, despite her tendency toward paranoia and a possible caffeine overdose, and she chooses to fight for that, for the bit of good amidst the sea of bad, and it is this inane, unshakeable determination to uncover the good that Simmons leaves us with. This book rattled me in the best way, in the way that ensures appreciation for the smallest moments, the best moments of freedom and safety and tranquility so that in the moments of terror and grief and uncertainty, we remember there is hope and choose to fight for what little bit of good remains.

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