The Other Shoe by Matt Pavelich
The author of Our Savage returns with a harrowing novel about honesty, resilience and ruin in the Montana backcountry. The story opens with a sudden murder – Calvin Teague, a vagabond from Iowa, stumbles upon Henry Brusett’s wife and finds himself fatally smashed by a shovel. But the act of murder takes a backseat to the larger question of what murder means in a small town, and what murder means when the prime suspect refuses to speak. This is dark and compulsively readable, and Pavelich explores this crime from every angle. From the lead investigator who knows he doesn’t have enough evidence to convict Brusett, to the local diner waitress who knows everyone’s name but still calls them “Mister,” to the public defender who takes on the case in hopes to adding a “not guilty” to her shelf. Henry is a fiercely quiet, mysterious character, one simultaneously endearing and frightening, but neither villain nor hero. Like Ron Carlson’s THE SIGNAL or Gin Phillips’ THE WELL AND THE MINE, this is about back country laws and realizing that sometimes, the path to the truth and justice is entirely misleading. Henry never wanted much more than a family and his days spent as a sawyer deep in the wilderness. But by middle-age Henry is divorced, disabled, and isolated on a remote plot of land in Montana. After years of self-imposed loneliness, Henry meets Karen, who’s half his age and knows nothing but her own willful solitude. Their union is the unlikeliest of bonds, a mix of comfort and guilt for Henry who believes he’s too old for Karen. But it’s also the spark of his undoing, a decision that leads him toward one of his greatest regrets. As members of Henry and Karen’s small town try to both uncover and cover-up the truth surrounding Calvin Teague’s untimely death, The Other Shoe moves toward the inescapable and shines in the rarity of Pavelich’s assured and haunting style.
Cindy’s review –
I finished this over the weekend but wanted to let it percolate for awhile. This is a really dark, excellently written story of bleak people who really don’t have a chance. They can’t help themselves or each other. And you can tell there is no happy ending coming here.
The Montana scenery is as much a character as Henry or Karen or Henry’s old friend and partner in a crime of their youth, the DA. It’s a murder story without much mystery but a truly stark and riveting descent into the misery one mistake can make of a life.