A Life for a Life: Lynda McDaniel
Stereotyping people is wrong and even misdiagnosing a student or older person because they appear to you on the surface to be mentally challenged or slow is not always the case. When the book opens we meet ABIT a young man who befriended the other voice heard throughout this novel. Her name is Della and she too has a difficult past as this young man finds himself sitting outside of her store everyday a murder is committed in the woods not far away as Della and her dog Jake take some time to chill out and relax as she finds the body of a young girl and from this point on their two lives not only intertwine but will change forever. What happens when a murder, a tragedy turns into something positive for two mismatched people? Living in a small town everyone gossips and knows practically everything about everyone else. This town is no different. When Della alerts the sheriff about the death of someone named “L” he dismisses her and claims it appears to be a suicide based on a note that she found on the victim. But, something does not ring true and Della begin a former reporter and very inquisitive won’t give up until she finds out who this young girl was and allows her the dignity of being properly laid to rest. A Life for A Life is a heartwarming story of how a serious tragedy gave two people a new start in life. With a sheriff named Bower who discounts much of what he hears about most things she turns to ABIT or Vester Jr. his real name to help her decipher the clues, find clues and even learn that he too has a strong value in life as we learn in the prologue when they decide to collaborate and write a book about that spring day.
ABIT’s father is abusive and cruel and although at times he shakes off the insults and physical abuse he seems to muddle through. Thinking he is worth not much and no longer allowed to do the one thing that matters to him, attend school, he trudges along each day sitting outside the Coburn story that his father once owned and hopes to see Della, get into some conversation and feel wanted. But, things take an unusual turn because Della is consumed with the murder and with the help of her friend Cleva who alleviates her stress when things get hard; they aim to learn the harsh truth about many of the people and a killer that just might be hiding in plain sight.
Della and Abit formed an alliance and since she needed help in her store she asked him to stock, watch the store and even created a Rolling Country Store that he and a man named Duane would run together. Since he was not old enough to drive they traveled together bringing food and other supplies to people that needed them. Laurel Falls, N.C. is the setting and the dialogue at times represents it so that readers get a flavor of the community and the people. Della was married to a man named Alex and the author shares their past together and when he shows up things starts to drastically change.
Finding out the name of the murder victim and meeting her family was the start of honing in on why she might have been killed. But, learning about an organization named Green Treatise whose members hated the government, did not want to pay taxes and resented anything about the government unleashed a whole group of suspects and some surprised Della and Alex when they decided to attend one of their meetings. Someone was calling Della threatening her to back off and to make sure she got the message they torched her store. With the help of ABIT things got under control since his powers of observation helped save the day. But, this fight was not over and a funeral for the dead girl was planned and the suspects were all present but who chose to gain from her death?
Someone received a phone call to come to that clearing and said he was needed there. He thought that it was some kind of joke or prank by the Green Treatise. Maybe an initiation, of some guys from the government who were trying to “broker a deal.” This is the man that Della saw at the sight in the clearing where the girl was killed. He touched her to see if she was alive but she was dead cold. As he stated if the sheriff bothered to look into things he would find his fingerprints at the scene but then something changes and someone is arrested for the murder but is he guilty. Working for the forest service and having feelings for Della, Gregg becomes a suspect and Della and Abit along with Alex went on a crusade to prove him innocent. This is a story told from two different voices and two different perspectives yet in the end they intertwine and blend together. Della not accepted by everyone in Laurel Falls with a somewhat checkered past and wanting to start over again yet at times floundering. Wondering why Alex was willing to help her solve the murder yet at times doubts and concerns popped into her mind. Abit has been labeled at mentally slow or challenged but as you get to know him and understand him better you will realize that he has an innate ability to sense situations, care for people and just wants his father to finally be proud of him but he feels he will amount to nothing hence living down to his own expectations by sitting outside Della’s store in his own chair, an nobody better take it, and laments, listens to gossip and hopes to spend time with Della.
A story told in two voices and yet there a many more that are heard as Della and Alex start to bond yet one simple misunderstanding might alter it all. While Della found a suicide note at the crime scene, Cassie who is Gregg’s assistant found another one and there lies where the mystery takes on a new tone. As Della looks at both notes she realizes that something is off. Enlisting the help of a former forger named Nigel who now works for the Treasury Department with his help she uncovers a major clue that forces Bower to realize that this might not be a suicide and that someone other than Gregg might have committed the murder but will he follow up on it or is there something else we don’t know? Evidence found in Gregg’s truck was it planted? Who wanted everyone to think he was guilty? Why didn’t the sheriff want to look further? With the Rollin Store doing well and Abit and Duane working together Della determined to find the real killer. When Alex disappears for a while Della becomes suspicious but when he returns with Abit you won’t believe what you see and how Abit’s transformation changes it all. Labeled, thought to be slow as the novel progresses you learn how much he yearns to go back to school, make himself and his father proud of him and why doing this job and working for Della has changed his life and hers too. With the killer on the lose they have to sort it out before Just who was scamming and stealing for older people? Who was pretending to house people in need but in reality taking what they owned and using it for herself to profit feeding them oatmeal and pretending to give them a clean and safe place to live?
Just who wanted Lucy dead and why and was coming after Della? Warnings not heeded and more lives on the line will they stop this person or will another body be found? An ending that will create some surprises and twists and a former Washington, D.C. reporter named Della who had investigative reporting in her blood and just might prove to be more than just the owner of a the Coburn Store and Rollin Store but maybe Ellicott City’s new sleuth. Characters whose voices are definitely defined and a plot that keeps readers wondering until the very end. A LIFE FOR A LIFE: How far will you go to save yours? What happens in a small town when a murder saves not only life but opens new doors for even more?
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine