A body burns in the high desert hills. A boy walks into a fire station, pale with the shock of a grisly discovery. A middle school teacher worries when her colleague is late for work. When the body is identified as local math teacher Adam Merkel, a small Nevada town is rocked to its core by a brutal and calculated murder. In the seven months he worked at Lovelock’s middle school, the quiet and seemingly unremarkable Adam Merkel had formed a bond with just one of his students: Sal Prentiss, a lonely sixth grader who lives with his uncles on a desolate ranch in the hills. It is Sal who finds Adam’s body, charred almost beyond recognition, half a mile from his uncles’ compound.
Nora Wheaton, the school’s social studies teacher, sensed a kindred spirit in Adam – another soul bound to Lovelock by guilt and duty. After his death, she delves into his past for clues to who killed him. Yet, the truth about Adam’s murder may lie closer to home. For Sal’s grief seems shaded with fear, and Nora suspects he knows more than he’s telling about his favourite teacher’s death.
This unforgettable thriller brings a small American town to vivid life, filled with complex, troubled characters wrestling with the weight of the past, the promise of the future and the bitter freedom that forgiveness can bring.
This is a very sad book. Everyone is dealing with loss and while it seems their lives couldn’t be more different, they really are more interconnected than they realize.
Adam Merkel didn’t make a lot of connections in the few months he lived and taught in Lovelock, so the police are at a loss as to why he would’ve been burned to death. There are few suspects, when Nora feels she needs to know what happened.
One of the passages in the book is math is math no matter your language and religion. It’s what separates us from other species. In today’s world of dissenting opinions, that really resonated with me. I think a lesson we could all use in today is we are more similar than we think.
Sal, Adam’s student, Nora, Adam’s colleague, and Adam have all experienced tremendous losses in their lives. While the book is listed as a thriller, I took more away from how each of them continued their lives after experiencing their losses. And no matter how far from their losses they were, their grief was always there.
While I’m not usually a fan of sad books, this book brought tears to my eyes more than once. And while I was sure i had everyone’s motives all figured out, I was only partially right in my deductions.
Heather Young is the author of two novels. Her debut, The Lost Girls, won the Strand Award for Best First Novel and was nominated for an Edgar Award. The Distant Dead was named one of the Best Books of Summer 2020 by People Magazine, Parade, and CrimeReads. A former antitrust and intellectual property litigator, she traded the legal world for the literary one and earned her MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars in 2011. She lives in Mill Valley, California, where she writes, bikes, hikes, and reads books by other people that she wishes she’d written.