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Book Author: Lori Roy

LET ME DIE IN HIS FOOTSTEPS by Lori Roy: Book Review

In this tale of mid-century Kentucky, there’s a lot going on.  There are family feuds, women with second sight, a girl’s “mother” who isn’t her mother, and a long-gone woman with an aura so evil that town’s citizens crossed the street rather than walk alongside her.

Let Me Die In His Footsteps is told in chapters that are nearly twenty years apart.  The novel opens in 1952 with Annie Holleran on the eve of her ascension, a ritual in her town that takes place on the day a girl becomes fifteen and a half.  The legend is that the girl must go to a well at midnight, and the face she sees in the water is that of the man she will marry.  Annie, despite her public stance that the ritual is nonsense, still plans to sneak out for a glimpse of her intended.

Rather than go to the well that most girls go to, Annie decides she’ll go to the well of her neighbor.  The only problem is that the neighbor is Mrs. Baine, and the Hollerans and the Baines have been feuding for years.  Nevertheless, shortly before midnight Annie leaves her bedroom with her younger sister Carolyn silently following behind her.  And at the well the sisters see a slender arm, lying still on the grass.

Sarah and Juna Crowley are teenagers in 1936.  Their mother has died, and they live in a shanty with their father and younger brother Dale.  It’s Sarah, the “good” sister, who tells this part of the story, and although she loves Juna, she is wary of her.  There is something about Juna, when she looks at you, that can freeze your blood.  And when young Dale disappears, the terror begins.

Written in the genre of a Southern gothic novel, Let Me Die In His Footsteps is spellbinding.  According to Wikipedia, the genre is filled with “deeply flawed, disturbing, or eccentric characters,” and this book certainly has those.  There is a sense of pervading menace in this small Kentucky town, mostly because of the events following Dale’s disappearance and the fear with which the citizens regard Juna.

Of course, a valid question is whether Juna is truly gifted with the “know-how,” a sort of second sight, and is intrinsically bad or whether the townspeople’s strange animosity toward her brought out an inclination on her part to do terrible things to repay them.  The answer is part of the novel’s mystery.

It’s not giving anything away to let readers know that Juna is Annie’s biological mother; it’s one of those things that everyone in Hayden County knows but nobody mentions.  People, including those in Annie’s family, recognize that she has the “know-how” that her mother had, and although she has never used it, it’s still a part of her.

As they did with Juna, people avoid looking directly at Annie, fearful of the power she could have over them, should she choose to employ it.  After all, it was her mother who caused Joseph Carl Baine to be hanged publicly, the last man in America to receive that punishment.

The characters in Let Me Die In His Footsteps are beautifully written.  Small-town America in the thirties and fifties comes alive, both its good and bad aspects.  Lori Roy, an Edgar winner for Bent Road, succeeds again in writing a masterful mystery.

You can read more about Lori Roy at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.