A Brilliant Death
Seventh Street Books, April 2016
From the publisher—
Amanda Baron died in a boating accident on the Ohio River in 1953. Or, did she? While it was generally accepted that she had died when a coal barge rammed the pleasure boat she was sharing with her lover, her body was never found.
Travis Baron was an infant when his mother disappeared. After the accident and the subsequent publicity, Travis’s father scoured the house of all evidence that Amanda Baron had ever lived, and her name was never to be uttered around him. Now in high school, Travis yearns to know more about his mother. With the help of his best friend, Mitch Malone, Travis begins a search for the truth about the mother he never knew. The two boys find an unlikely ally: an alcoholic former detective who served time for falsifying evidence. Although his reputation is in tatters, the information the detective provides about the death of Amanda Baron is indisputable—and dangerous.
Nearly two decades after her death, Travis and Mitch piece together a puzzle lost to the dark waters of the Ohio River. They know how Amanda Baron died, and why. Now what do they do with the information?
There is so much good to be discovered in this novel that I hardly know where to begin. I’m kind of compelled to say that A Brilliant Death is, well, close to brilliant, never mind the fact that Brilliant is the name of the town in which the story takes place.
Friendships between boys are not featured anywhere nearly as frequently as those between girls. That’s no doubt at least partly because there’s so much drama in girl friendships while the guys just sort of seem to hang together without a lot of hoopla…until, of course, a girl comes between them. Anyway, the friendship depicted here between Travis and Mitch is a terrific story all on its own. I really appreciate the way these two boys are truly there for each other, especially in Mitch’s understanding of how awful Travis’s life is and how much he wants to help. It’s not one-sided, though, as Travis also cares very much for Mitch.
I also thought Mr. Yocum had a terrific idea in making Mitch the protagonist rather than Travis, the one who is driven to find answers to the mystery of his mother’s death. There are other mysteries, too, such as why was Big Frank such a loathsome individual? Why did women keep marrying this awful excuse for a human being? Did Travis die on graduation night and, if so, why? Would Brilliant survive once the steel mills began to close?
And thus Mitch’s tale of what happened in Brilliant, Ohio, begins in the summer of 1953.
I do have to mention one oddity that bothered me a bit. At times, there are two speakers in the same paragraph and I really don’t know if this was a failure of formatting in the pre-publication electronic galley I read or if it also happens in the final electronic and/or print editions. It happened enough that I noticed it but it certainly didn’t hamper me from having a most enjoyable read. Robin Yocum is a fine writer and I can’t recommend A Brilliant Death highly enough.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2016.