While the whodunit aspect of the novel is enough to keep the reader interested, it is the inner conflicts and relationships of the characters that make this book truly engrossing. Haunted by a childhood tragedy, Matt does not make a decision or contemplate a life plan without carrying the burden of the tragedy with him. His friendship with Travis runs deep, but his actions preceding and following the murder weigh him down with guilt over his conceived betrayal. Exacerbating the problems in the friendship is Travis’ newfound interest (or obsession) in a religious group (or cult).
The author also explores Matt’s relationship with his divorced parents. Matt sided with his dad, a professor of philosophy and author of textbooks on ethics, after the divorce, and he resents his mother and her new marriage. Matt’s mother does not give up on him, though, and she is determined that her love and patience will pay off. As often happens in the real world, people jump to conclusions when they do not know all of the facts, and Matt’s often form his opinions in this way.
Coming to terms with the past and forgiving one’s self and others are the themes that prevail throughout the book. The novel’s clear, descriptive but precise prose puts the reader right inside the head of the characters, and right in the hot, dusty desert. “Giant Saguaros rose in clusters around him, their thick green arms pointed toward the blue and cloudless sky.”
This is a novel for mystery lovers as well as readers who like books that explore family drama, relationships, coming of age, and coming to terms with one’s past.