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ANGELS BURNING by Tawni O’Dell: Book Review

Dove Carnahan (Named after the soap.  Seriously.) has been the chief of police in her rural home town for more than a decade.  It’s a place where the police work usually consists of dealing with domestic violence, DWIs, and minor vandalism.  But a call from a childhood friend brings Dove to Campbell’s Run, a deserted part of town, where she finds the burned body of a teenage girl lying in an abandoned mine pit.

The following day the girl is identified as Camio Truly, one of the members of the dysfunctional Truly clan.  Or should that really be one of the members of the Truly dysfunctional clan?  Camio is one of five children; the oldest brother died after running a red light on his motorcycle while drunk, another died after falling off a railroad trestle while drunk, and a sister is an unmarried sixteen-year-old with an infant.  The youngest brother isn’t quite old enough yet to get into trouble.

Camio was the only one with any ambition or drive in the family.  She received straight As in school and planned to go to college, two things that inspired jealousy and disdain within her family circle.  She also had a boyfriend whom her mother had forbidden to enter their house, probably because he came from the “right side” of the tracks.

There’s no obvious suspect once the boyfriend’s alibi is verified, and there appears to be no motive for any of Camio’s family members.  Dove is working hard on the case, along with the Pennsylvania state police, when she’s sidetracked by two events in her own family.  First there’s the reappearance of one of her mother’s lovers, the man Dove and her sister Neely accused of killing their mother.  He has just been released from jail after thirty-five years, convicted by the sisters’ testimony.

Second is another reappearance, that of Dove’s younger brother Champ.  He left town immediately after he graduated from high school, about ten years after their mother died.   Apart from a yearly post card saying he was okay, neither Dove or Neely has heard from him.  Now he’s back with his nine-year-old son Mason, with no explanation as to where he’s been or what he’s been doing all these years.

Angels Burning is a starkly powerful novel about the ways in which family members can destroy each other.   In addition to a terrific plot, what makes this book so special is the way Tawni O’Dell makes the reader understand why people do these things to each other.  And just when you think a character has no redeeming qualities or perhaps has some unexpected good ones, the author turns things on their head and makes you think differently.  Quite a talent.

You can read more about Tawni O’Dell at this web site.

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