Monday, February 15, 2021

We Begin at the End

We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker
3/2/21; 384 pages
Henry Holt & Company

We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker is a very highly recommended exceptional, tragic drama/thriller featuring a broken and dysfunctional family. This novel is unforgettable and is sure to be one of the best books of 2021.

Thirty years ago seven-year-old Sissy Radley was accidentally killed by fifteen-year-old Vincent King. Vincent was sent to a men's prison for thirty years and is now being released. His best friend at that time was Walk, who is now Police Chief Walker of Cape Haven, a small tourist town on the California coast. Walk is planning to pick up Vincent and bring him home. He grew up with Vincent and Star Radley, the older sister of Sissy and Vincent's girlfriend at that time. Since that time Walk has tried to look after Star, whose life has taken a downward spiral into self-destruction with drinking and drugs. Star is the negligent mother of 13 year-old Duchess and five-year-old Robin. Walk is medicated, suffering from a progressive medical condition that he has never told anyone about.

Duchess is a self proclaimed outlaw - the outlaw Duchess Day Radley - but also the one who cares for her younger brother Robin and tries to look after her mother, Star. Walk, in turn, tries to watch out for Duchess and Robin, along with Star. Local kids make fun of Duchess and Robin, but Duchess will fight back, hard. She's used to fighting for herself and her family and doesn't feel the need to follow rules. Both Walk and Duchess expect the worst to happen as that is what has always been the case. When Star ends up murdered and it appears Vincent is responsible, both Walk and Duchess begin to look for the truth. Developer Dickie Darke is the prime suspect for both of them. When Duchess and Robin are sent to Montana to live with their grandfather, Hal Radley, a man they never met, Duchess knows Darke will be looking for her.

Set in 2005, this is a breathtaking, heartbreaking literary novel, vast in scope and emotional depth. The plot is intricate, authentic, and perfectly plotted and paced. In We Begin at the End Whitaker has written a thriller, murder mystery, family drama, and love story. It is a quest for retribution, friendship, a tale of personal sacrifice, and, ultimately, allows a sense of hope. This is the kind of memorable novel that will leave an indelible mark and stay with you long after it is over. The writing and descriptions are

Part of the enduring nature of the narrative is due to the character development. It is absolutely impeccable and all of these characters will make a mark on you and will be remembered for a long time. Duchess, the angry teen, is the main character whose fierceness and fury is justified, yet dangerous. She is the one protecting what remains of her family and clutches hard to her moniker of an outlaw. Her care for Robin is heartbreaking, as she tries to protect him from all the bitter truths in their lives. Walk is also and incredible character and you will feel his emotional struggle, his desire to make everything alright, his need for a happy ending, for closure while he is facing a future struggle he won't divulge. The ending is perfect, heartbreaking, yet hopeful.

(There was one odd flaw in an otherwise masterful novel that most will overlook. When Whitaker mentioned the "priest" at Hal's Baptist church several times, I was taken aback and wondered how a writer could make an error like this - until I saw Whitaker is from the UK and it all made perfect sense. FYI: a minister at a Baptist church is normally called a reverend or pastor. Since I read an advanced readers copy, this could have been corrected but it also made me respect even more how he captured the specific settings in the novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Henry Holt & Company.

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