Series: CHARLIE CATES TRILOGY
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons (Imprint of Penguin Random House LLC)
1 The Gates of Evangeline (9/2015)
This ongoing post was updated on 3/1/2017 to include a review of The Shimmering Road, the second novel in the trilogy. That review appears first, followed by a brief overview of the world-building and a review of the first novel.
NOVEL 2: The Shimmering Road
A pulse-pounding mystery from the author of The Gates of Evangeline featuring Charlotte “Charlie” Cates, an unforgettable heroine whose dark visions bring to light secrets that will save or destroy those around her.
Charlie is writer, so she always notices the mundane details of life, particularly in her descriptions of various people she meets. I don't mean to pick on realtors, but here are Charlie's descriptions of two of them. In Sedalie: "Brandi Babcock may possess the name of a porn star, but she has the body of a butternut squash, a solid top that flares out into an epically large backside." And in Tucson: "He wears a golf shirt, khaki shorts, and large aviator sunglasses, and his hair is slick with gel....he smells like a frat boy—Axe body spray or something like that. His skin emits waves so intense that I wonder briefly if my gestating child will suffer grave birth defects with prolonged exposure."
|A dwelling at the |
|Child waste-pickers gather |
recyclables at Tirabichi.
As the series opens, the heroine―Charlotte "Charlie" Cates―is trying to pull her life back together several months after her four-year-old son, Keegan, dies suddenly from a brain aneurysm. Charlie, who is divorced from Keegan's cheating father, has only one other relative, her grandmother, who is in a local assisted living facility. Charlie's mother deserted her during her early childhood, and her father was an alcoholic who died in an alcohol-fueled auto wreck when she was just fourteen. From that point on, her grandmother raised her.
Several months after Keegan's death, Charlie begins having premonitory dreams about children. Unlike Young's grandmother, Charlie's dreams are not about her son. Instead, she has prophetic dreams about familiar and unfamiliar children, both dead and alive, many of whom speak to her and ask her to help them.
In an online guest blog, Young shares her thoughts on fictional heroines: “I’ve always enjoyed female characters who, for better or for worse, actively shape their own fate. Don’t give me a heroine who finds herself paralyzed by fear—at least let her try to smash the bad guy in the head with a lamp. The fictional women I want to spend my time with may not be entirely wholesome rays of sunshine, but they are resourceful, courageous, clever. They are individuals and not accessories." Charlie Cates certainly lives up to Young's description. As she tells her story in her wry, self-aware, first-person voice, we watch her set up her investigation, draw conclusions (frequently not the correct ones) from the clues she gathers, and begin to make friends in this new life she is developing for herself.
NOVEL 1: The Gates of Evangeline PUBLISHER'S BLURB:
From a unique new talent comes a fast-paced debut, introducing a heroine whose dark visions bring to light secrets that will heal or destroy those around her.
The disturbing images lead her from her home in suburban New York City to small-town Louisiana, where she takes a commission to write a true-crime book based on the case of Gabriel Deveau, the young heir to a wealthy and infamous Southern family, whose kidnapping thirty years ago has never been solved. There she meets the Deveau family, none of whom are telling the full truth about the night Gabriel disappeared. And as she uncovers long-buried secrets of love, money, betrayal, and murder, the facts begin to implicate those she most wants to trust―and her visions reveal an evil closer than she could have imagined.
A Southern Gothic mystery debut that combines literary suspense and romance with a mystical twist, The Gates of Evangeline is a story that readers of Gillian Flynn, Kate Atkinson, and Alice Sebold won't be able to put down.
Click HERE and scroll down to read an the prologue and chapter one of this novel, or click HERE to listen to January LaVoy read that same excerpt aloud. (Note: LaVoy also narrates Kim Harrison's new series, PERI REED CHRONICLES.)
|Charlie's dream about |
the little boy in the swamp
The book is divided into four sections. The first and last are set in Stamford, Connecticut, where Charlie currently resides. The middle two sections are set in on the Deveau estate in Chicory, Louisiana. There, Charlie moves into a small cottage on the estate grounds and meets the members of the spectacularly dysfunctional Deveau family and their staff. As she investigates the case, she develops close relationships with two men: Remy Minot, a local police detective who has been assigned to reopen the investigation of Gabriel's disappearance, and Noah Palmer, a Texas landscaper hired by Hettie Deveau, the dying family matriarch, to restore the estate gardens to their former glory. One becomes her friend and ally, and the other becomes her lover.
Young has created a Southern Gothic novel that drips with atmosphere: "The trees thicken, forming a dense canopy. Spanish moss drapes down, gloomy and majestic...The swamp creeps closer and closer...The silence is, to a city dweller, unearthly. No birds, no rushing water. Only stillness. I...gaze at the green-brown water. There's a smell I don't like, a dank and almost moldy odor, like someone's leaky basement." When she reaches the gated estate, she sees the white-pillared, French-windowed house "waiting at the end of the drive, lovely and white, half shielded by the trees. An elegant, expectant ghost of a home." In a scene set inside the Deveau mansion, someone pulls the drapes open to let in some light, "but the study's dark and somber furnishings expertly fend off natural light. It is a room for migraine-ridden women, scholars burning the midnight oil, grave old white men weighing matters of political and economic import."
The Deveau siblings are a disagreeable lot: twin sisters—one stridently dissatisfied with her life and the other smug and pretentious—and their in-the-closet older brother, who runs the family hotel business. All of them are harboring secrets, some harmless and some devastating, and it's up to Charlie to dig deep enough to bring those secrets into the light—an intense and sometimes dangerous task.
As Charlie narrates her way through her investigation and her love life, we get to know her in a very personal way—her grief over Keegan's death, the big shift in her feelings of distrust for close friendships, and her blossoming emotions as she begins to fall in love. When she thinks about Keegan, she grieves, "No one told me then, He's yours, for four years. He's yours, but not for long. I am not by nature an optimistic or hopeful person, but when I held my child, I believed absolutely in the future. His future." All through the book, Charlie wrestles with her beliefs about the role of God and the ramifications of religious faith. She meets Justine, a religious woman who has lost her daughter, Didi, and wonders "How can you pray to a God…who is so unfair? How can you look in Didi's empty bedroom and see any reason, any purpose? It isn't a rhetorical question—I really want to know the answer. Justine told me that prayer gives her comfort, but I can't imagine seeking solace from the being who orchestrated my misery."
Charlie is a richly drawn protagonist, always alert to the everyday details of life. For example, when she and Noah stop at a local restaurant, they are waited on by a puffy-eyed, hung-over teenager "who has a faraway look like she's mentally composing a suicide note." (Haven't we all met that waitress?) When Charlie stops in at the local library to do some research, "The gray-haired woman at the reference desk…wears a purple turtleneck with a garish studded snowflake pin that only a teacher, librarian, or grandmother would find attractive." (Yes, that can be construed as a stereotypical statement, but still…I know exactly what that pin looks like.)
But there is a major problem with most of the people with whom she interacts: very few of them are telling the whole truth about themselves, and some are telling outright lies. Young does a masterful job with her plotting, keeping the reader in deep suspense all the way up to the final scene. Although I made some close guesses about the truth of the kidnapping—which is at the heart of the plot—many aspects of the final resolution surprised me.
On the downside, Young wraps up that resolution a bit too neatly. It's hard to imagine—even in a tiny bayou town—that in the face of the deadly final events, most of the details are kept hidden from public knowledge and from law enforcement. But that didn't bother me as much as, perhaps, it should because I truly enjoyed every page-turning scene, from beginning to end.
Here are some links to interviews with and guest blogs by the author on the subject of this novel: