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A Brilliant Death

4.38  ·  Rating details ·  1,430 ratings  ·  235 reviews
A 2017 EDGAR® AWARD FINALIST! Amanda Baron died in a boating accident on the Ohio River in 1953. Or, did she? While it was generally accepted that she had died when a coal barge rammed the pleasure boat she was sharing with her lover, her body was never found. Travis Baron was an infant when his mother disappeared. After the accident and the subsequent publicity, Travis’s ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published April 5th 2016 by Seventh Street Books
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Average rating 4.38  · 
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 ·  1,430 ratings  ·  235 reviews

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What a satisfying, escapist story that combines a heartwarming, first person, coming of age narrative with a small town mystery. Set in the 1950s through 1980s, this is the tale of two best friends, Mitch Malone and Travis Baron, who initiate the ‘Amanda Project’ their freshman year of high school to investigate the mysterious death of Travis’s mother when he was five months old. Brilliant, Ohio (a real place by the way) is a small village tucked along the Appalachian foothills and the Ohio Rive ...more
 Li'l Owl
Brilliant! Simply Brilliant!

In the river town of Brilliant. Nicholas, who was known as Duke, grew up in Mingo Junction. Johnny, who in junior high insisted that he be called Giovanni, even though he was more Polish than Italian, grew up in Steubenville. We were bonded by family blood and the gritty air and muddy waters of the Ohio River Valley. Never in my vivid imagination did I dream we would ultimately have another common bond—murder. Duke and Johnny would see their adult lives knotted like s
May 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Authored by Robin Yocum, ‘A Brilliant Death’ is a coming of age novel with a crime mystery plot. Told in the first person voice of Mitch Malone, the heart of the story belongs to Mitch’s friendship with Travis Baron and Travis’s quest to find out what really happened to his mother, Amanda. According to rumors, when Travis is just an infant, Amanda drowns in the waters of the Ohio River after a barge hits the boat she is on with her lover. Her body is never found. Travis’s father, Big Frank Baron ...more
Tara Rock
Sep 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
A brilliant an cleverly crafted mystery. Fast paced with vivid characters and a home town atmosphere.
Sep 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010s, mys, edgar, hartlnd
Enjoyable, one-sitting read. Ending was a pleasant surprise.
Will be trying another tale by Mr Yocum. (Very soon quit that book. Won't try others.)
Thanks to Goodreaders for recommending the Edgar class story.
Was intrigued to see that some readers tagged it 'young adult.' Wonder how many young adults will be reading about the high school student protagonists.
Christine Zibas
Mar 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016-books
This is the story of two friends in the small town of Brilliant, Ohio. The narrator (Mitch) is from a typical Midwestern family, and the other is the son of an abusive father (Travis). As the boys move from childhood to adolescence, Travis begins to search for clues about his mother. His father, a long-haul trucker, refuses to talk about her, and rumors around town suggest that Amanda died as a young woman in a boating accident on the Ohio River.

Local gossip has it that Amanda and her lover -- a
Sep 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So much more to the story than what’s written in the description! Above everything this is a story of friendship. It’s hard not to fall in love with the main characters Mitch and Travis! The story itself is beautifully told and makes you want to keep reading! I randomly picked this book up via BookBub and am SO HAPPY I did! I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone! Such a clever and easily flowed story- what’s not to love?!?
Andy Weston
May 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: coming-of-age, crime
This is a clever and thoroughly enjoyable novel set in smalltown Ohio in the 1950s.

To me it qualifies as great American fiction, and more than once I found myself comparing Yocum's coming of age tale to John Irving (specifically Owen Meaney) and Robert McGammon (Boy's Life).

Sport figures prominently as Mitch supports his best friend Travis in looking for clues as the death of his mother. There is the supposed innocence of stereotypical adolescent suburban life interrupted as the boys team up a
Carmel Hanes
Jan 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
3.75 rounded up.

I listened to this as an audio book on a road trip, choosing it based on thinking my husband might also be interested (we don't tend to read the same books, so finding one we can share is a challenge). It held my interest pretty well.

I enjoyed the characters, especially the dynamics between the two friends at the center of the story. They reminded me of Doogie Houser and Vinny in their personalities and interactions, which captured the playful/serious juxtaposition often found
Sharon Huether
Jan 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
I won this book through Goodreads first reads. A coming of age story. Two teenage boys, teamed together to solve a mystery and find the truth. What they found out they had to leave it alone. Truth is what they held on to.
The story was very well written. It was definitely a page turner.
Jun 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: byob-book-club
The beauty of this coming of age novel lies in the relationship between the two main characters, Mitch and Travis. Set in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, A Brilliant Death is told in first person by Mitch with sincerity and a dash of humor. Travis and Mitch spend years of their youth trying to solve the mystery of Travis’ mom’s death before a stunning ending after high school graduation.

A perfect read for your summer vacation or COVID staycation.
Lelia Taylor
Apr 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: full-reviews
There is so much good to be discovered in this novel that I hardly know where to begin. I'm kind of compelled to say that A Brilliant Death is, well, close to brilliant, never mind the fact that Brilliant is the name of the town in which the story takes place.

Friendships between boys are not featured anywhere nearly as frequently as those between girls. That's no doubt at least partly because there's so much drama in girl friendships while the guys just sort of seem to hang together without a lo
May 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016, y

Amanda Baron died in a boating accident on the Ohio River in 1953. Or, did she? While it was generally accepted that she had died when a coal barge rammed the pleasure boat she was sharing with her lover, her body was never found.

Travis Baron was an infant when his mother disappeared. After the accident and the subsequent publicity, Travis’s father scoured the house of all evidence that Amanda Baron had ever lived, and her name was never to be uttered around him. Now in high scho
Gloria Feit
Mar 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
From the publisher: Amanda Baron died in a boating accident on the Ohio River in 1953. Or, did she? While it was generally accepted that she had died when a coal barge rammed the pleasure boat she was sharing with her lover, her body was never found. Travis Baron was an infant when his mother disappeared. After the accident and the subsequent publicity, Travis’ father scoured the house of all evidence that Amanda Baron had ever lived, and her name was never to be uttered around him. Now in high ...more
Jun 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, mystery, 2017
I'm not usually a fan of male bonding/coming of age stories but I picked this up anyway because it was set in Brilliant, Ohio, near my hometown around the time I grew up. I wasn't expecting anything more than a trip down memory lane following teenaged Mitchell as he helped his high school bud Travis unravel the story behind his mom's apparent drowning. Well, I got that plus much, much more - I don't want to risk a spoiler but WOW! what a surprise there at the end. And I just loved the play on wo ...more
Aug 20, 2018 rated it liked it
I really loved the author's book, "The Essay," so looked forward to reading this one. I found it to be a quite enjoyable read, although perhaps not quite as well-written as "The Essay," and would recommend it to someone looking for a novel that reads easily and doesn't need to be "literary."

Mr. Yocum's two main characters are teenaged boys growing up in the 1960s in Brilliant, Ohio, which just happens to be the author's home town. Brilliant is a small burg on the bank of the Ohio River, close t
May 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I like books with an Appalachian setting. Nice boys coming of age story with a mystery. I didn't see the end coming. I enjoyed it. ...more
Oct 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
During their high school years, two teenage boys try to uncover the truth about the death of one boy's mother when he was an infant.

Obstacles include the cruelty of the motherless boy's father, the lack of technology to aid in this search set in the late 1960s and early 70s, and the reluctance of adults to reveal information about the woman.

The mystery also serves as a coming-of-age story, and a male bonding tale. The plot and well-developed characters would appeal to both teen and adult readers
May 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Once again, Robin Yocum gives us a great coming-of-age tale.

Travis Baron and Mitch Malone are best friends from the (real town!) of Brilliant, Ohio. Travis has a hard life as the only son of a notoriously evil man. Mitch leads a stable life in a loving family. By the time they are seniors in high school, Travis wants to know more about his mother who drowned 15 years before - but her body was never found. Once the boys get started, they find out more than they bargained for and danger is closing
Sharon Ashby
May 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
I have read The Essay, Favorite Sons and now A Brilliant Death by Robin Yocum and loved them all. This book is about friendship, trust, and succeeding in spite of a disadvantaged upbringing with an abusive father. I feel I really get to know teenagers Travis and Mitch. The dialogue between these two main characters is believable. A coming of age story as well as a mystery. The story flows well, and is hard to put down.
David Putnam
Feb 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
liked it okay. I finished it which says something for now days. I've become very picky. Loved the character development ...more
T.R. Horne
Oct 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Robin Yocum is an exceptional writer with a keen eye for building relationships and scenery that transports you to small town Ohio. In A Brilliant Death, you meet Mitchell Malone, the stories narrator, who is recounting his childhood and his special bond forged over the Summer of 1953 with his bestfriend, Travis Baron. Travis is an unfortunate teen. He has lost his mother to a river accident shortly after his birth. His father doesn't really care to raise him unless he's beating or intimidating ...more
Feb 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
I picked up A Brilliant Death after meeting Mr. Yocum at the 2016 Books By the Banks in Cincinnati, Ohio. As I moved around to different tables, I was drawn to his and enjoyed conversation about his writing and his novels. I'm so glad I chose A Brilliant Death, and remained engaged throughout the story.

Each time I thought I understood the depth of this novel, it became more complex and interesting. The character development, particularly of the two young friends, was excellent, especially for a
John Yingling
Jul 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is the first book by Robin Yocum that I have read, and I am looking forward to reading more of his work. A Brilliant Death is outstanding in several ways: for the storyline, the dialogue, the character development, and especially for the setting. I am familiar with that part of Ohio, having driven through Steubenville, Mingo Junction, and Brilliant, where the story is set. The area is so well described that it brings back all the memories I have of going through there over the years. The my ...more
Seema Rao
Mar 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
TLDR: a man relates the events leading up to his best friends drowning and death.

Wonderful writing
Great characters
Well-described settings
Surprising plot twists
Thoughtful and original


An exceptional novel filled with suspense and meaning. I picked this bc it was about #ohio, but I think anyone would love it. Highly recommend to the #literarymystery readers. #mystery #fiction #whodunit
Apr 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was AMAZING! I don't usually enjoy books with a male protagonist, but this was "brilliant." An absolute mystery that felt like realistic fiction. I couldn't stop reading. ...more
Ann Creel
May 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Just plain enticing and unpredictable all the way through.
Molly Sawyer
Dec 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I save my 5 Stars for books that really deserve it! Friendship at its best. Read it!
Mar 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
The book started off slow but ended up really grabbing my attention. I always love a good murder story.
May 12, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery, young-adult
A kid with an abusive father investigates his mother's death. His father is the primary suspect. This is coupled with a lot of teenage high jinks.

Not bad.
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Robin Yocum is the author of the award-winning, critically acclaimed novel, Favorite Sons (June 2012, Arcade Publishing). Favorite Sons was named the 2011 USA Book News Book of the Year for Mystery/Suspense, and is a Choose to Read Ohio selection for 2013-14. His latest novel, The Essay, was released in October 2012 by Arcade. He also is the author of Dead Before Deadline, a compilation of stories ...more

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