A Brilliant Death

Written by Robin Yocum
Review by Rebecca Henderson Palmer

Mitch Malone and his best friend, Travis, grow up in Brilliant, Ohio, a sleepy blue-collar town nestled along the Ohio River, just west of Wheeling, West Virginia. Unlike most teenage boys, Mitch and Travis spend much of their time on “Project Amanda,” the covert operation to get to the bottom of how Travis’s mother, Amanda Baron, supposedly drowned in the river when Travis was an infant. Neglected and abused by his father Frank, Travis – now a high school senior in 1971 – wants to learn more about the mother he never knew. Town gossip has it that Amanda and her lover were thrown into the water and drowned when a coal barge rammed their boat. Frank never speaks of his deceased wife and tells his son that all his relatives on his mother’s side are dead, but is any of that really true? As the boys go to great lengths to unravel this unsolved mystery, they realize that finding justice for Travis means concocting a plot that will change both of their lives forever.

Based on the cover alone, you might be surprised to find, as I did, that this is much more Thelma and Louise than unsolved crime thriller. What happened to Amanda is really secondary to the enduring friendship between the two main characters. Yocum’s skills as a crime reporter shine in the plot details – the well-developed backstory and local flavor make it especially appealing to those of us who live in the area. Although not the mystery novel one might expect, this is still a thoroughly enjoyable Midwestern take on a coming-of-age tale.