Event Staffer Meike Alana reviews Robin Yocum’s new novel, A Brilliant Death.
Robin Yocum’s new novel, A Brilliant Death, explores the fallout from family secrets too long kept in a small town. For almost two decades, the tale of Amanda Baron’s death in a night-time boating accident has been town legend in Brilliant, Ohio. Presumably, the boat on which she and her mysterious lover were trysting was struck by a coal barge; the boat was destroyed and the bodies of Amanda and her lover were never recovered.
Her son Travis was an infant when his mother died. Now in high school, Travis yearns to know more about the mother he doesn’t remember. His father, town bully “Big Frank” Baron, removed all traces of his late wife from their home and refuses to speak her name. So Travis enlists the help of his best friend Mitch Malone (our narrator) and launches “Project Amanda” to learn the details about his mother’s life and death.
Soon the boys learn that Amanda’s death might not have been an accident. They partner with a disgraced former detective who spent time in prison for falsifying evidence—and who just may hold the key to figuring out exactly what happened that night. The closer they get to the truth, the more they sense the danger that lies in uncovering secrets that others prefer remain hidden.
Although this is a murder mystery at heart (and one with an exciting, unexpected conclusion), it is also a coming of age novel. Big Frank Baron is a brutal, abusive father who never had any time or love for his son, so Travis and Mitch have developed an extremely close, almost brotherly bond. We sense the deep love Mitch has for Travis when we see to what lengths he will go to help his friend. Their escapades often include elements of danger, but are humorous as well (there is often urine involved).
The setting for the novel is the author’s real hometown of Brilliant, Ohio, which sits on a bend in the Ohio River (“go to a map and find the point where Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania meet, and come down the river about 30 miles”). Yocum describes the town in great detail, enveloping the reader in the atmosphere of 1970’s small town life. We sense the love he has for the town and its people, and for me that was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the book.
You can find copies of Yocum’s latest on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.