"Julianna Putnam sat on a heap of worn truck tires and sucked on the Marlboro she had sneaked from Christy's bag. With her back propped against the shaded side of the fleapit gas station, she considered the straight-line shadow the isolated building, alone in the dusty of nowhere, made on the ground. Where Julianna sheltered was oppressively cloying, but in the open farther out, the exposed earth appeared to smoulder under the sun's blistering assault. The sizzling beneath her neck and arms, areas she took care to keep from touching the wall behind, reminded Julianna that the day had already made merry murder of her and it was barely noon now. She hocked a loogie from back of her throat and spat it out onto the cracked cement, drew on the Marlboro, and watched the wet stain burn to nothing."
Misisipi by Michael Reilly is a romance mixed with mystery, murder and global issues. It is a work of fiction based on recorded historical events.
Reader discretion is advised.
It is 1997. A hot summer's day in Arizona and three girls are stopped at a gas station, trying to fix their car. They've come all the way from Boston, aiming for LA. Julianna Putnam is twenty-one. She's just graduated and wants to get away from home, from her adoptive parents.
While the other girls are occupied, Julianna notices a young man struggling with his car a little ways off. Turns out they're not the only ones with car trouble. She gives him a hand and the two immediately hit it off.
Scott Jameson is also running away. An engineering graduate, he bailed before his Masters exams. He hasn't told his father yet, and is standing at the metaphorical crossroads between home and LA when he meets Julianna. She discovers he's stone-cold broke and lends him enough to get him the rest of the way. Scott wants to pay her back (not just for her generosity, but so he can see her again). With no cellphone and no other contact number until she reaches LA, she has to think of a way to get it to him once she has one. The two devise a plan- a place she can leave a message in LA, so that he can get in touch with her, using Navajo fetish stones- Native American carved stones with special meanings.
Cut to Boston, 2005. August 22nd. Julianna and Scott are married, but not happily. There's a lack of communication that stems from their past and Julianna's- though Scott isn't aware of that. They rarely see each other. Then one day, Scott comes home from work and finds her gone, leaving nothing but a one-line note for him. She hasn't left any indication of why or where she's gone, but Scott won't give her up that easily. Following whatever leads he can, he sets off on a journey- one that will take him across the States. As he heads further south, Katrina builds offshore. She's not the only one hounding him. Julianna's past is a dark place, and for the first time in decades, the lights are flickering on, revealing everything little by little to the confused, distressed Scott.
The story is told in alternating segments between 1997, LA and Scott is 2005- as he races across the country. What starts off as a switch between the new, lovestruck couple and the present, 2005 one, quickly becomes a murder mystery and thriller. The story has a tendency to switch through various genres at the turn of a hat. It starts off as romance, then thriller, then murder mystery, then survival, and somewhere along the way they all blend together. It may sound disjointed, but it works. I wouldn't say they switch seamlessly, but for the most part I see it more like Scott's journey. As he enters the new terrain of a different State or district, we enter a new genre. It can be a little jarring because it's unfamiliar, but you get used to it pretty quickly. The more changes there are, the less you notice them. What starts off as a light-hearted story, slowly slides through the spectrum, picking up speed before hurtling into the dark.
The pace starts of slow, but builds like the winds of Katrina. Slowly, gradually, until the end is a fast-paced, tension-filled ride that comes at you full force. For a lot of the story, confusion is ever-present. From Scott's POV, we know exactly what he does- nothing. He knows as little of Julianna's past as we do. So why he's hunted, why she left, where she went, who the big players are, are all a mystery to us, which can make certain points hard to follow sometimes, but it does get tied up at the end. There is a lot going on in this story, but stick with it and it'll all make sense eventually.
There's also a little backtracking in the second half. Not the flashbacks to 1997 that we're used to, but to Julianna, just before she leaves. Her part is mainly exposition designed to fill in the numerous gaps, but it doesn't feel too drawn out. This is a longer book (at almost 500 kindle pages), so some places can drag a little, but the payoff is worth it.
There's quite a few issues incorporated into this book. Some environmental, some forces of nature and some the result of mankind. The focus is very much on the damage they cause, both to the planet, society and to individuals. On the pain and grief left behind. As I stated earlier, all the characters are fictitious, but some of the events are real. Hurricane Katrina for one, and though the characters themselves don't exist, I'm sure their basic stories were some actual person's. Hundreds, thousands of actual persons'. Books based on true events can be in bad taste, but here it is done well. It's respectful, it's factual and it's a dark reality. This is a story of loss- in it's many different forms. It's an emotional hurricane to match the real thing.
This book is the entire collection of the Misisipi stories. They were released separately (though they are the same story, same continuation), and once the story was finished, they were collected together in this book. It's like books with different acts. The only reason I mention it is because at the start of each new book, we get an illustration of a Navajo stone and its meaning. They foreshadow the events about to occur.
The characters are well-written and all have their moments. They're so 'real' sometimes that there's times you berate the good guys and sympathise with the bad. Everyone has a story. Everyone has a reason. The reason itself may be worthless, poor or nonsensical, but it can fuel good people to do bad things and bad people to do good.
A story that could only ever have one ending. The fiction is perfectly blended with the factual, right down to the grief and loss. It's a story that won't let go. A slow boil that will rise up in your heart, long after the inevitability dawns. The tension is almost painful in its brutality. It will rip through you, leaving you desperate to know, to not know.
The main plot is ultimately irrelevant. No matter the choices we make, the things we did or didn't do, the end comes to everyone in some form or other. But we must never forget, never not take comfort in this: whenever there is an end, there is always a beginning to follow it. This book will wrench both your heart and gut. For a little while it may even break something, but everything broken has the potential to be fixed. Maybe not the way we want, or even need, but enough to keep us moving.
Beware: If you do read this book, you may need some time to recover afterwards. Once you do, you'll want to read it all over again. Moral of the story? Appreciate what you've got before it's gone.
Disclaimer: I received this book from the author through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.