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Wednesday 18 May 2016

‘A Brilliant Death’ by Robin Yocum

Published by Seventh Street Books,
5 April 2016.
ISBN: 978-1-63388-128-0 (PB)

From the publisher:  Amanda Baron died in a boating accident on the Ohio River in 1953.  Or, did she?  While it was generally accepted that she had died when a coal barge rammed the pleasure boat she was sharing with her lover, her body was never found.  Travis Baron was an infant when his mother disappeared.  After the accident and the subsequent publicity, Travis’ father scoured the house of all evidence that Amanda Baron had ever lived, and her name was never to be uttered around him.  Now in high school, Travis yearns to know more about his mother.  With the help of his best friend, Mitch Malone, Travis begins a search for the truth about the mother he never knew.  The two boys find an unlikely ally: an alcoholic former detective who served time for falsifying evidence.  Although his reputation is in tatters, the information the detective provides about the death of Amanda Baron is indisputable - - and dangerous.  Nearly two decades after her death, Travis and Mitch piece together a puzzle lost to the dark waters of the Ohio River.  They know how Amanda Baron died, and why.  Now what do they do with the information?

The writing is terrific.  Mitch Malone, the protagonist, in the book’s Prologue talks about his maternal grandfather, who died at 42.  The local doctor said it was from a massive heart attack, but “my father said that anyone who knew my grandfather realized he died of acute estrogen exposure.”
The family had settled in the coal mining community west of the Ohio River Valley.  He had a wife and nine daughters, including a set of triplets.  Mitch relates the story, which begins in the summer of 1953 in the town of Brilliant, Ohio (from whence comes the title) and continues, for the most part, through June of 1971.  His best friend, Travis, was the only child of Francis “Big Frank” Baron, a violent man, abusive, physically and emotionally, to his son, and his wife, Amanda, whose death starts the tale.

Big Frank was “an old man whose best days had been lost to time and alcohol . . . big, mean, paranoid, hateful . . . who sleeps with a .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol on his nightstand.”  But beyond this singular character, the novel is peopled with a wide variety of colorful folks with colorful names, e.g., “Turkeyman” Melman, “a muttering, squatty little man in constant need of a shave and a bath.”  Then there is the sheriff, Beaumont T. Bonecutter.

The fascinating plot is one whose outcome the reader, or this one at least, could never have guessed.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as I had the author’s debut novel, “Favorite Sons,” and this one as well is recommended.
Reviewer: by Gloria Feit

Robin Yocum was born in 1955 in Steubenville, Ohio, and grew up in the in the Eastern Ohio. He is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Favorite Sons and The Essay. Favorite Sons was named the 2011 USA Book News’ Book of the Year for Mystery/Suspense. It was selected for the Choose to Read Ohio program for 2013-14 and was a featured book of the 2012 Ohioana Book Festival. Yocum is also the author of Dead Before Deadline . . . and Other Tales from the Police Beat and Insured for Murder (with Catherine Candisky). He is the president of Yocum Communications, a public relations and marketing firm in Westerville, Ohio. He is well known for his work as a crime and investigative reporter with the Columbus Dispatch from 1980-1991. He was the recipient of more than thirty local, state, and national journalism awards in categories ranging from investigative reporting to feature writing.

Ted and Gloria Feit live in Long Beach, NY, a few miles outside New York City.  For 26 years, Gloria was the manager of a medium-sized litigation firm in lower Manhattan. Her husband, Ted, is an attorney and former stock analyst, publicist and writer/editor for, over the years, several daily, weekly and monthly publications.  Having always been avid mystery readers, and since they're now retired, they're able to indulge that passion.  Their reviews appear online as well as in three print publications in the UK and US.  On a more personal note: both having been widowed, Gloria and Ted have five children and nine grandchildren between them.

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