by Lou Berney
Wyatt and Julianna have the worst possible thing in common.
In August 1986, Wyatt was the only survivor of an Oklahoma City movie theater robbery that left six dead.
In September 1986, Julianna was left in the twilight of a day at the Oklahoma state fair by the 17-year-old sister, Genevieve, she idolized. Genevieve vanished without a trace.
Their lives intersect as gently as a brushed kiss when Wyatt, now a private investigator in Las Vegas, is back in Oklahoma for the first time in 25 years on a case. He promises a colleague to check into who might be trying to scare his wife’s cousin out of a bar she inherited. Wyatt says yes to the job before he learns it’s in Oklahoma City.
These braided mysteries focus on the aching randomness of life. Wyatt’s alcoholic uncle gives up drinking forever on April 19, 1995, the day the Murrah Federal Building was bombed, killing 168 people. His wife worked in the Murrah Building, but that morning she had a dentist appointment and survived.
Wyatt, in his search to understand why he survived when his coworkers were murdered, finds himself face-to-face with police Detective Brett Williams, the first member of the police department to speak to him after the killings. He doesn’t recognize her at first; during a later crime, a bullet pierced the gap under her Kevlar vest, leaving her a parapalegic. She, unlike Wyatt, can accept the fact that sometimes “why?” has no answer.
Julianna, now a nurse, puts her job at risk to find recently released convict Christopher Wayne Crowley, a one-time suspect who may have been last person to see her sister alive. In the human resources department of a company where Crowley once worked, Julianna manipulates a perky young woman into giving her Crowley’s address. The young woman continues to pop up like a burr in Julianna’s life, pursuing her friendship.
For Candace, inheriting the Land Run music bar was completely unexpected. A former waitress, she became friends with the previous owner, Mr. Eddy, on his quarterly trips to Las Vegas to gamble. Although the bar had been in his family for nearly 50 years, he bequeathed it to Candace. The Land Run is a chance at a new life and a future for herself and her daughter. She’s not about to be scared off — until the threats are directed at her daughter.
In the hands of a lesser writer this novel, with its leaps from character to character and past to present and back again, could have been a sappy mess. Wyatt and Julianna meet in the book briefly twice, never revealing their separate tragedies. The moments are astringent bits of ordinary life marking yet another random missed opportunity.
Despite the fact that both the theater slayings and Genevieve’s disappearance are cold cases, Wyatt and Julianna credibly uncover never before understood keys to the mysteries allowing them to understand what happened — if not why.
The Long and Faraway Gone is complex, well-paced, well-written and haunting.
This book won the Edgar Award, the Macavity Award, the Anthony Award and the Barry Award for Best Paperback Original and it was nominated for the 2015 Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
If you enjoyed this book, you might enjoy Berney’s novel, November Road.
About the Author: Lou Berney
Lou Berney teaches in the Red Earth MFA program at Oklahoma City University.
The Long and Faraway Gone is the second of his books. His first novel, Gutshot Straight, was nominated for both Edgar and Anthony Awards. His other books include Whiplash River (the sequel to Gutshot Straight) and a collection of short stories, The Road to Bobby Joe. His short fiction has appeared in the New Yorker, Ploughshares and the Pushcart Prize Anthology. In addition, he has written feature screenplays and TV pilots.