If hard-boiled crime thrillers with a main character who has survived all the horrors and betrayals that the world has thrown at her and continues to punch her way through life because l better than the alternative, then come and meet Katrina Williams, an army vet who is now a Sheriff’s Detective in a small town in the Ozarks.
‘A Living Grave’ is a remarkable start to a four-book series. The writing is grown-up and hard-hitting. The plot is twisty and drags you through some bad places where you meet truly terrible people. There’s a strong sense of place, in this case, a small town in the Ozarks but most importantly, the main character, Katrina Williams is someone you are not going to forget.
She’s a woman whose present has been dramatically shaped by her past. Her life is the ‘living grave’ of the title but she refuses to lie down and die. She is powered by anger, bowed by grief and finds relief mostly in violence.
The book opens with Katrina in mandatory therapy after an ‘incident’, which she described as a ‘justified adjustment of attitude’, that ended with a wife-beater being hospitalized. Here’s the opening paragraph:
Therapy is not for the weak. It is spine-ripping, devastatingly hard work that shines a light on all the secret parts of your soul. We are all vampires at the center of ourselves, I think. Those bits of ourselves, the secrets that are protected by ego and self-delusion, burn like phosphorus flames when the light finally pins them down.Dunn, Robert E.. A Living Grave (A Katrina Williams Novel Book 1) (p. 1). Lyrical Press. Kindle Edition.
Although there is a solid mystery at the centre of this book, what it mostly does is provide a framework for getting to know Katrina Williams and for her to come to terms with her past and decide what she wants to do with her future.
Katrina’s past is a nightmare. Most of that nightmare is about the violence done to her while she was in the army and the cover-up and betrayal that followed. The backstory is skillfully woven into the plot and revealed a bit at a time. This is achieved partly by having Katrina’s history catch up to her in the form of a live investigation by the Military Police. Be warned, when we finally find out what happened to Katrina, Robert Dunn pulls no punches. The violence is graphic and horrifying but not in the least bit gratuitous. My main reaction after reading it was, ‘How does anyone cope with having lived through that?’
Katrina’s present is full of violence and isolation, except for her contact with her father and her uncle. She’s working on it but that doesn’t mean anything is getting better any time soon.
One of the things I liked about this book was that it gives an unromanticized view of anger and guilt and violence. Katrina’s past is never given as an acceptable excuse for her actions. It’s not her violence or her hard-as-nails way of policing that makes her a hero. It’s that she hasn’t given herself up to it entirely. She’s still trying to have a life.
For me, ‘A Living Grave’ was a very satisfying read and a great start to a series that I’m keen to read the rest of.
I think this is a book that deserves to be much more widely known. I recommend it to you.