For 40 days, I am choosing a book from my personal book shelves. It will be a book that is insightful, intriguing, or illuminating about women. I will write why I think this book is a positive one and worth a read. This isn’t advertising for me or to promote any of my friends. It’s simply praise for good books.
Day 34, Dahlia’s Gone by Katie Estill
Three very different women are connected by proximity and a crime in this country noir novel about facing the truth about yourself, your loved ones, and your fellow man. It begins with Sand, who has returned from aboard to her childhood home on a needed break from her career as a journalist. In the beautiful rural section of the Ozarks, a closest neighbor might be a mile away, and Sand’s is Norah, a strictly religious woman who has a complicated blended family and wants little to do with the world-weary Sand. Nevertheless, when she and her husband prepare for a trip, Norah asks Sand to check in on her two children, a girl and a boy, both teenagers who are not siblings by blood. Sand is surprised by the request, but who refuses to do a simple favor for a neighbor?
After Norah leaves, Sand makes a dutiful and uncomfortable check-in with these two young people she hardly knows. She delays a bit before a second visit and when she finally returns, she discovers the daughter, Dahlia, has been brutally killed in her bedroom. Enter the third woman in the story: Patty, the only female deputy in the county. Patty leads the murder investigation, but Patty has an undiscovered connection to Sand—an illicit relationship with Sand’s now-dead father, who owned the county newspaper. When Norah returns, she blames Sand for Dahlia’s death, by hand or by neglect, and Sand accuses Norah of being blind to her own family’s troubles. The three women circle one another with equal parts support and suspicion, as secrets and denial touch everyone now connected by the death of this girl.
Why is Dahlia’s Gone a good read for women? The opening line of this book is “A promise can change a life.” This is certainly true, and the book examines promises—casual ones as well as vows, pledges, obligations, and commitments—and how a casual agreement turns into an unwanted duty. How much, after all, do you owe someone if what they ask is unreasonable? The story is also about bonding and the expectation that women will automatically connect with one another just because they are women. Katie Estill digs deep here and asks questions that are not comfortable, but are illuminating. The story is sometimes bleak and always artfully crafted, a fine example of the country noir genre.