A 43-year-old murder casts a long
shadow over a high school reunion that brings together three friends haunted by
Not much changes in the New Mexico
town of Arthur unless it absolutely has to, as a character observes in this debut
novel that impresses with its strong sense of place. The stage for this
decades-spanning saga is compellingly set when Hezekiah Boyd’s high school
reunion committee tracks down the computer software maven. He insists there has
been a mistake: The man, formerly known as Buddy, left town and never returned
after a prank went wrong and he killed a classmate named Christy Hammond in 1966.
He would not be a welcome guest. But the heart of the story shifts to Cullen
Molloy and his first love, Shelby Blaine, Buddy’s classmates, friends, and
fellow outcasts. Cullen and Shelby were a passionate teenage couple back in the
day, and there is still an inextricable bond between them that is not unnoticed
by Cullen’s current lover, a retired cop. Murphey keeps the story hopping
between events in the ’60s, the aftermath in the ’70s, and the reunion in 2009,
when a murder sheds light on the 1966 killing. Cullen, a divorced former lawyer
who went to work for Buddy, is called on to defend the man from new suspicions
and confront his own long-simmering relationship with Shelby. The author, a New
Mexico native and award-winning journalist, knows the lay of the land; not just
the geography, but also high school football culture, passionate fumblings in
cars, and secrets to be taken to the grave. The book is densely populated with
vividly drawn characters. One, Weard Ward, a former genius fried by his years
with the CIA, serves as a sort of comic relief, but he is the weakest player.
The antagonists, including Christy’s uncle and a former high school nemesis,
spout clichéd dialogue (“You’ve got some…nerve showing your face here”). But
the relationship between the three friends rings true and deftly holds the
sprawling narrative together.
An ambitious, evocative small-town
tale located somewhere between Peyton Place and The Last Picture Show.