Billy Dead. Best 100 Mysteries of All Time

Billy DeadLisa Reardon–Viking Publishers-1998–IP

Not an ordinary crime novel.  The story is shocking, hard, and to some, I’m sure, distasteful. It’s also heartrending, compassionate and creates a reality so strong, the characters and events linger long long after the pages have been read and the book closed and perhaps traveling on to the next reader.

It’s her first novel, it may have been her 20th for the skill and depth demonstrated throughout. The Michigan based Johnson family is known by outsiders as troublemakers and just plain troubled. Onlookers haven’t a real clue as to the sordid abusive reality within. And members of the family don’t deal with it–a father who brutally sexually abused his children won’t own up to it, a mother who’s remarried denies that anything horrible ever happened, and the three Johnson children grew up dealing with the effects a dangerous and brutalized childhood brings.

The author catches the reader from the first lines, and sets the cadence and tone of the book used throughout.

“People lose people. I don’t know why we’re all so damned careless. Folks lose their kids, men lose their women, even friends get lost if you don’t keep an eye out. I look through the windshield at the houses going by. For every person sitting in them houses, watching TV or eating a ham sandwich, there’s someone somewhere wondering where and why they lost them. All those lost people, carrying on their everyday business like the air’s not full of the sound of hearts breaking and bleeding”.

A powerful start that never weakens.

Billy dies. An ugly way, slowly, on a highway, head split, watched by his killer who throughly despised him. He was hated by many people. In a unique fashion,  Ray is a the lone voice of the story. He relates his memories as a child, his thoughts on his brother’s death, his emotional ties to his sister, Jean. Ties that would not be looked on by society in a welcoming way.

Ray’s reaction when he learns the news of his brother’s death.

“Billy was a son of a bitch. I could picture him doing a lot of things but getting killed. Just about anything but that. Whoever got him must have been even meaner than him. Only one person I know like that. The thought scares me so I light a smoke, toss the match in the sink, and squat down on the floor. Butt on my heels, back against the cupboard door, lying low when the shit flies. Done it ever since I was a kid.”

Not a whodunit, or even a psychological thriller, but a novel of unbearable pain and hopeful redemption that happens to contain a murder which compels Ray  to relive and examine his life.

To relate more of the story would be to rob you,  the reader, of discovering it within the passionate pages of this exceptional book.


Don’t forget to check out the list of my Best 100 Mysteries of All Time!


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