The young couple disappeared on Christmas Eve of 1971 from South Carolina and were later found by a surveyor across the state line in Deeton County, North Carolina.
The novel opens with a preface of a modern-day true-crime podcast created by Jess Keeler and then further tells the story with dual timelines of the present day and 1972 investigation. The story is then propelled forward by the points of view of the different characters within the novel in alternating chapters.
Leading the investigation of 1972 is Deeton County, NC sheriff’s deputy Big Jim Ballard, who also happens to be the long-dead grandfather of podcaster Jess. Big Jim is supervised by Sheriff Red Carter. Both are larger-than-life local legends, with each willing to resort to any method necessary to find the answers that they want.
For fifty years the killings have gone unsolved with no new information coming to light until after Jess discovers an old spiral notebook belonging to her grandfather. The notebook not only contains previously unknown information but also the name of a man her grandfather highlighted as “guilty.”
Jess then approaches Dan Decker, a disgraced womanizing, but once a very well-known journalist, to help in her investigation and after considerable encouragement is able to persuade him to help.
With the charm of Decker, the pair find more people willing to reveal more information, while others seem to wish the past stayed in the past. One of those resistant to the overtures of Jess and Dan is the sister of the murdered woman.
Not only does Eryk Pruitt put forward an interesting present-day telling, but also a complex recounting of the original investigation with interesting revelations best left to the discovery of the reader.
Of the novels I have read this year, Something Bad Wrong has been one of the best crime fiction novels read so far. The writing is crisp, and wonderfully descriptive, with the story reading like a crime fiction epic. Something Bad Wrong is also a blending of the genre styles of Country/Rural Noir and a police procedural. It is also written in such a way that Southern films from the 1970s like I Walk The Line and In the Heat of the Night are brought to mind.
I really enjoyed the craftsmanship of this novel and cannot recommend it highly enough.
Something Bad Wrong is set to be released in early 2023. Netgalley provided an ARC upon the promise of a fair review.