"The Risen" (Ecco), by Ron Rash
When the scarred remains of a 17-year-old girl are found in the waters of a secluded North Carolina mountain creek, law officers reopen a probe of her long-unexplained disappearance.
It has been 46 years since she was reported missing. Now it is clear she hadn't run away; instead, she had been murdered, the body wrapped and buried at the creek.
Her disappearance in 1969 has haunted and taken a toll on Eugene Matney. As a 16-year-old he had experienced — during that year, with that girl, at that creek — the loss of his virginity and his first taste of alcohol.
He also stole Valium, Quaaludes and other drugs for her, slipping them from the doctor's office of his domineering grandfather.
His older brother, Bill Matney, initially is a willing participant in these illicit creekside escapades. But Bill, at 21, soon leaves the girl to Eugene, and grows increasingly concerned that she is bad news.
"The Risen," a new novel by Ron Rash, is in part a tale of two brothers: Bill is stable, athletic, determined, a caring husband and father who in time becomes a gifted surgeon; Eugene, who wanted to be a writer, is much the opposite and turns to the bottle after his marriage comes apart.
The story is told by Eugene, who writes chapters that alternate between the furtive events of 1969 with his teenage lover — Ligeia is the fictional name he gives her — and the criminal case that torments him in 2015 with the discovery of her remains.
Rash's best work often draws on the travails of Appalachian life. "The Risen," while set in the Carolina mountain terrain around Asheville, is less about the region than a psychological drama about a fractured family, a crime and the torment of its decades-long, unresolved aftermath.
There is a flatness to some of the dialogue, particularly when the young Matneys and Ligeia are talking. But Rash skillfully weaves the plot around events nearly half a century apart, and the novel becomes both suspenseful and thought-provoking.