Novel Approach: Secrets haunt small town in 'Surrender the Dead'

“The simple truth is that you can understand a town. You can know and love and hate it. You can blame it, resent it, and nothing changes. In the end, you're just another part of it.” —Brenna Yovanoff

Gossip is its own kind of currency within a small town, as anyone who has ever lived in one can tell you. When there’s only so many neighbors people can’t help but find out about everyone else’s business one way or another. Our latest read takes us to a fading small town in Montana where the residents closely guard their secrets.

Surrender the Dead by John Burley

John Burley tucks readers into the minds of not only his protagonists but into the aching psyche of the entire town of Wolf Point in his latest novel, “Surrender the Dead.” When Erin heads back to her hometown to care for her ill father after a 15 year absence she quickly finds herself falling back into the town’s vortex after discovering human remains were discovered on her father’s farm.

As Burley coaxes the narrative along readers discover that Wolf Point is a town that has been grappling with an old wound that has only festered over the years as the questions about the missing have lingered on. With the discovery of the body at her father’s farm, Erin is quickly thrust back into the town’s drama as she is forced to remember how her mother became one of the missing.

“Surrender the Dead” bounces back and forth in time as Burley leaves readers a trail of breadcrumbs to solve the question of not only who took Wolf Point’s residents, but why. The story doesn’t just examine Erin’s history with the town, but all those who were impacted by the disappearances as the narrative tells the story of how different characters were taken and how the survivors have been unable to move on from that dark time.

Burley’s thriller offers a riveting tale as he explores the nuances of small town life and how the town’s secrets have haunted the residents for decades. Thriller fans will enjoy Burley’s twists and turns until the final moment when he reveals who really is behind the town’s collective grief.

From the book jacket…

When Erin Reece left Wolf Point fifteen years ago after graduating high school, she’d planned to never set foot in her childhood hometown again. But an urgent phone call from her father’s doctor leaves Erin with no choice but to return to a place filled with painful memories and wounds that never closed. Two decades ago, people in Wolf Point started disappearing without a trace—including Erin’s mother—and no explanation was ever found.

It’s been years since the last disappearance, but the town is still steeped in suspicion and haunted by the ghosts of the missing. No one is thrilled to see Erin back, including her former best friend, Robbie, who has changed from a spirited, fearless boy to a reclusive shut-in.

Then a body is discovered, buried in a makeshift grave for years . . . on the Reece family’s land. The police reopen their investigation, and the evidence against Erin’s father is damning. After such a long time without answers, the community wants justice. It’s up to Erin to clear her father’s name, but the path to the truth will force her to unearth long-buried secrets and confront a terrible evil. Because in Wolf Point, everyone knows more than they are letting on...

If you enjoy...

Readers looking to unearth more of the secrets that lurk in small towns might enjoy “House of Correction'' by Nicci French. The novel is a blisteringly intense thriller about a woman trying to prove her innocence from the confines of prison after she has been accused of murdering someone from her past.