Book review

Book review: Heart of a runaway girl by Trevor Wiltzen

Mabel owns a diner/motel and manages them both. She is a single mother to two kids and her teenage niece. A murder of a young teenage girl in the small town of Blue River leads Mabel to investigate. A young man of colour, Winston is accused and arrested for the murder with next to no evidence. The murder and reaction by the community further uncovers the corruption of Blue River that Mabel has been disgusted by for years.

For someone who constantly claims she has no time, Mabel spends a lot of hers getting in other people’s business and baking apology pies for them.

My Thoughts:

(I am reviewing this title as a Netgalley read).

This story is marketed as an adult mystery/thriller which I think is a bit of a stretch. Potentially a YA… Investigative novel maybe?

The plot was sound and the story flowed logically. Grammatically, I only picked up on one type error (around pg. 495).
I didn’t find any holes in the plot per se. Though the story was quite cliche in parts. It feels as if the author tried to address some big themes but fell short. I was most irked by the “white saviour” theme we found within Mabel. (I will get more to her character further down). The story also covers family and family dysfunction, police and police corruption and community.
The author sets a solid world and I appreciated the nostalgic feel of the diner and the nuances of the 1980’s in the small town.
In terms of flow I felt the story dragging in the middle. I had to really focus on working through the book and then the ending came all to quickly and felt very rushed.

Mabel was a stereotypical, middle aged busy body. I was frustrated by her by about two thirds in and found myself shaking my head and rolling my eyes at her. Her actions defied logic, I couldn’t rationally agree with a lot of what she did or how she did it and her dialogue was at times very melodramatic.

If I were to offer advice to Mabel it would be this: If you didn’t jump to conclusions constantly and accuse people of things they didn’t do/ perform police work you have no right to be doing, you would not need to make nearly as many apology pies. You state you have no time and feel run off your feet- this is the solution I offer to you.

Although addressing issues such as racism is commended, the story line and Mabel’s part in it came across as very shallow and gave me big white privilege vibes. In 2020 the idea that any white person is free of being racist just doesn’t sit right. Mabel points out how key members of her community are racists and therefore bad people and she, in contrast cannot be racist at all. For more exploration on this idea I would suggest reading something like White Fragility or Caste.

Through the story Winston is painted as a stereotypical, young, black kid who has fallen in with the drug dealing crowd and has no other option but to deal with his arrest. This leads to a portrayal of him feeling hopeless and his own acknowledgement that he has minimal chance of getting free because of the colour of his skin. Mabel is then painted as his saving grace- the only person who cares about him or feels he is innocent.. However, Winston’s family are then present at the end of the book but had not been referred to for the entirety of the story? It just seemed off to me.

I also found the whole premise of the book- that the entire state’s legal and police system were an absolute failure and relied solely on Mabel to solve a crime- to be difficult to believe- even in the 80’s.

I will say that this book was structured well and was polished from an editing point of view. It gave me a Murder, she wrote feel and might interest people who are fans.

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