It is Oklahoma City 1986 and fifteen year old Wyatt Rivers is the sole survivor of a robbery/shooting at the movie theater he works in. Also in 1986, twelve year old Julianna Rosales’ older sister, Genevieve, leaves Julianna alone at the county fair, supposedly for fifteen minutes, but never returns. Her body was never found and Julianna has no idea of her fate.
Jump ahead to 2012. Wyatt has moved from place to place and currently resides in Las Vegas working as a private investigator. A business associate who throws him a lot of business asks him to fly to Oklahoma City. His sister-in-law, Candace who recently inherited a music club from an acquaintance, insists someone is harassing her. Wyatt can’t refuse. Also in 2012, Julianna has spent the last 26 years trying to find out what happened to her sister. A carny at the county fair has just been released from prison and moved to Oklahoma City. Julianna can’t let this opportunity pass by.
The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney concerns itself with one present day mystery (Candace’s claim of harassment) and two 26 year old ones. Although the killers have been caught, Wyatt always wondered “why me?”. Why was his life spared? As he ponders this and as he drives around the city of his youth, more questions arise than are answers provided. Julianna, on the other hand, has not escaped geographically from her past and has constantly looked into her sisters’ disappearance.
Both of these are interesting premises and Berney does OK with them…mostly. I’ll admit that I did have an inkling, midway through, about the answer to one of the mysteries. On the other hand, Berney seems to have pulled the answers to the two others out of nowhere. As the two main protagonists only intersect briefly in the book, I probably would have concentrated on one mystery, cut about 100-150 pages out of the 450 pages in the book and made it a tighter read. (Maybe, however, that’s why I’m not an author and he is.)
My last comment is that Wyatt makes a pretty poor private investigator. While I realize he was sidetracked by returning to ‘the scene of his crime’, something just didn’t ring true about it. I’m not upset that I stuck it out with this book, but there are better mysteries out there. (In the interests of full disclosure, both Publishers Weekly and Kirkus gave it starred reviews. But if you know me, you know that the journals and I often disagree. Although I will agree with this comment from Publishers Weekly, “The leads’ struggles are portrayed with painful complexity, and Berney, fittingly, avoids easy answers.”) The choice is yours on this one.