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Unraveled by Reavis Z. Wortham

Published by Poisoned Pen Press on October 4, 2016

Unraveled is another decent entry in a decent series. None of the subsequent Red River mysteries have been as good as the first one, which is truly a chilling thriller, but they all feature good characters, entertaining plots, and a realistic setting in a racially tense 1960s northeast Texas.

Reavis Wortham follows the formula he’s established in the earlier Red River mysteries. Some chapters are narrated by Top, a boy who has inherited a supernatural gift. In Top’s case, the gift manifests itself as dreams that foretell the future, unless they don’t. Top has a knack for getting into trouble, although his tomboy cousin Pepper just as often leads him into trouble. Top is just starting to notice that Pepper is a girl, although Pepper has understood her gender for some time and is ready to get it on with a young Indian who has more-or-less been adopted by Top’s grandfather, who is raising Top.

The plot involves a fellow who nonsensically calls himself the Wraith, a chilling name that doesn’t really match his personality. Wortham hasn’t managed to create a frightening villain since the first novel. This one is a fairly ordinary murderer who has a grudge about the past and is getting vengeance in the present. The most interesting thing about the Wraith is that he takes a carnival job as a clown, which creates some comic relief with a recurring secondary character named Isaac Reader, who is spooked by clowns.

The Wraith wants to get even with Cody Parker, Top’s uncle, who is now the sheriff. Much of the story builds toward a confrontation, but along the way there’s a feud between two families, which is sparked by an apparent car accident that killed a white man from one of the families and a black woman from the other. The story, like others in the series, gets mileage from the racism that pervades the time and place, while pointing out that race has nothing to do with how sensible people feel about each other.

The ending is a bit of an anti-climax, but the story has enough entertaining moments along the way to make it a worthy entry in the series. At this point, I read these books for the characters and setting more than the story, although I always hope that Wortham will find the magic again and come up with a story that rivals the first one in the series.


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