When the novel begins, the reader learns that on the same day that the Schutt family was robbed, by an unknown thief, Joe Schutt was awakened and murdered in his bedroom, and his wife Hanna was brutally bludgeoned and left for dead on the bed. She suffered a brain injury and was severely disfigured, but did survive. We later learn that Joe’s inhaler had sadistically been smashed, and the phone was ripped from the wall to prevent a call to 911, in this horrific home invasion.
While suspicion falls upon their younger daughter Dawn, for orchestrating both crimes, she is not indicted. It is her boyfriend, Rud Petty who is sentenced to prison, largely based on witnesses to Hanna’s responses to questioning on the night of both crimes. Because of a technicality regarding her “death bed nodding”, and the severity of her injuries, Petty has been granted a new trial. At the same time as this happens, Dawn, who had left home and moved to California after her boyfriend was sentenced, declaring she no longer loved him, decides to return home to help her mother get through the ordeal of another trial. The community is leery of her as many believe she committed or participated in the horrific crime, including her older sister, Iris, who never wants to see her again. Dawn is ridiculed and compared to Lizzie Borden.
Dawn Schutt has always been in the shadow of her sister who is the achiever in the family. Dawn is different. She had a lazy eye as a youngster and was bullied. She also seems to have an arrested emotional development, often reacting in unexpected immature ways. She has a lack of confidence, exacerbated by the way her fellow classmates and “friends” tease and torment her, calling her fish face and ding-dong because of how she looks and responds to them. Her reactions are often inappropriate and naïve. She seems to withdraw from confrontations, rather than respond with anger.
When she agreed, unexpectedly to go away to college, her parents were surprised but happy. There, she met and fell in love with Rud Petty. He is the first boy to ever really look at her, and although a decade older, she never even stops to wonder why he has such an interest in her, although everyone else seemed to be surprised. Dawn had created an entirely false persona for her friends at school, telling everyone stories about her background that had nothing to do with the truth. To hear her tell it, she was pretty much an heiress with a trust fund.
Next door to the Schutts there is a family with a child who is also different. Emmett Furth is the neighborhood troublemaker. Suspicion was immediately cast upon him because of his previous vandalism and malicious behavior around the neighborhood. Even Dawn tries to cast suspicion upon him regarding the robbery, murder and attack on her mother.
Now that there is going to be a new trial, the prosecutor has contacted Hanna. Gail wants her to help in the new trial by giving testimony, and she encourages her to try to remember anything she can about that horrible night. She does not want the original conviction reversed, but Hanna is beginning to wonder if Rud is guilty. She has begun to have strange flashes of memory and she doesn’t want to have the wrong man pay for the crime. She is determined to try and remember, but she has always been the “procrastinator in chief” and she keeps doubting the veracity of her flashbacks. Hanna, who generally tries to avoid confrontation, keeps lots of secrets, and she continues to do this with her recent thoughts about that fateful night. She attributes this closed-mouth behavior to her Scandinavian background. She insists to both the prosecutor and Dawn that she remembers nothing of that night.
While some of the clues misdirect, the solution to this whodunit is always at the edge of the reader’s vision, just waiting to come into full view. It is read expertly by Ellen Archer. When she engages the character of Dawn she is Dawn, and her diabolical nature shines through. With Hanna, her personality and practice of avoidance becomes so obvious I wanted to scream at her to wake up. The author’s descriptions of the characters, major and minor truly brought them to life. Once I started listening to this book, I couldn’t stop. I listened until the wee hours of the morning to finish it. It is a page turner or an ear burner!