Real Bad Things
From the author of Cottonmouths, a Los Angeles Review Best Book of 2017, comes an evocative suspense about the cost of keeping secrets and the dangers of coming home.
Beneath the roiling waters of the Arkansas River lie dead men and buried secrets.
When Jane Mooney's violent stepfather, Warren, disappeared, most folks in Maud Bottoms, Arkansas, assumed he got drunk and drowned. After all, the river had claimed its share over the years.
When Jane confessed to his murder, she should have gone to jail. That's what she wanted. But without a body, the police didn't charge her with the crime. So Jane left for Boston--and took her secrets with her.
Twenty-five years later, the river floods and a body surfaces. Talk of Warren's murder grips the town. Now in her forties, Jane returns to Maud Bottoms to reckon with her past: to do jail time, to face her revenge-bent mother, to make things right.
But though Jane's homecoming may enlighten some, it could threaten others. Because in this desolate river valley, some secrets are better left undisturbed.
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Real Bad Things is the second novel by award-winning American author, Kelly J. Ford. Recently jobless, homeless and romantically detached, a string of text messages from her ever-hostile mother is really all the impetus Jane Mooney needs to quit Boston and return to her Arkansas hometown, Maud. “They found him.” “I TOLD YOU THEY WOULD.” “Time to come home.” “Time to pay for what YOU DONE.”
Twenty-five years earlier, inexplicably breaking the solemn vow made with her younger brother, her best friend and her lover, Jane confessed to murdering her abusive stepfather, Warren Ingram, as soon as he was reported missing. Jane was arrested, but without a body, or evidence of a crime, the case couldn’t proceed. Jane left town as soon as she was released.
Now, she’s back to face the music but, new among the lazy, incompetent members of the Maud Police Department, Detective Benjamin Hampton isn’t ready to arrest her just yet. He’s asking awkward questions, and Jane feels the need to check that the other three are sticking to the agreed story. But, for over two decades, Jane has believed a version of what happened that, it turns out, is not quite correct.
Georgia Lee Lane is unhappily married with twin teenaged sons, manages the Maud Pharmacy, and has been a city councillor for fifteen years. But her opponent in the upcoming election has plenty of money to splash around, and she is already polling badly enough without her name being associated with Lezzie Borden, the nickname Jane acquired after her confession. But that’s exactly what the “Let’s Talk About Maud” Facebook group, run by a couple of auto body guys, is doing.
In order to survive, Georgia Lee has cast the events of twenty-five years earlier from her mind, but “Some days it felt like trouble hung around her like a coat she couldn’t cast off, weighing her down, no matter how good or kind or helpful she tried to be. It made her sweat. Restricted every forward motion so much that past deeds and present resentments swelled inside her.”
The story is told through alternating narratives from the perspectives of Jane and Georgia Lee, along with flashbacks to the time of the murder. Ford constructs her plot so skilfully that the astute reader who believes they have figured out exactly what happened to Warren Ingram still has a surprise or two in store, and even those who pick up on a few hints throughout the story are unlikely to predict the final, jaw-dropping, reveal.
Ford deftly conveys the Arkansas Bible-belt small-town mindset where “Who cared about crime when you had two women doing something people thought they ought not do?” Maud is painted as a place that revels in gossip and speculation spouted in print, screen and social media, where a strip of compromising photo-booth shots of two seventeen-year-old girls is deemed more important than competing confessions of murder.
While it is easy to empathise with some of the players, none of her characters is necessarily all that likeable: all have very human flaws, and while many are simply trying to get by as best they can, quite a few are downright despicable. Certain scenes in the later chapters are blackly funny, and Ford has a talent for descriptive prose: “words like justice and I told you so spitting out of her mouth like knives”. A brilliant slow-burn thriller!
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer
Real Bad Things by Kelly J. Ford is a recommended psychological thriller.
When Jane Mooney confessed to killing her abusive stepfather, she was let go because there was no body. Now twenty-five years later remains have been found and Jane has come home to Arkansas to face jail time. But there are irregularities found and it seems that the case is bring more questions to light and it is suspected that others may have been involved.
Jane has to deal with her truculent mother who is more concerned about who will pay for the funeral rather than her estranged relationship with Jane and her son Jason. Jane was called “Lezzie Borden” at the time of her confession and the attitude toward her remains. Then when others confess to the crime, the real case is searching for the truth about what happened all those years ago.
Jane and her friend from years ago, Georgia Lee are narrators and the plot unfolds through their points-of-view. The characters are portrayed as realistic individuals, but aren't deeply developed so I didn't feel a connection to them. The child abuse present in the story felt excessive. Furthermore, there is simply too much pointless dialogue, which made the novel feel overly long.
Plenty of clues are provided along the way that point to the truth, although they are disguised. I wasn't really invested in the story, however, and really questioned the name calling involved in the plot. Additionally, the novel is more concerned with trying to throw in various surprises and twists than making a truly unpredictable plot. It was a bit too predictable.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Thomas&Mercer via NetGalley.