On a desolate road in the Oregon high desert, an apprentice mortician stumbles upon a horrific car crash--and into a vortex of treachery, long-buried secrets, and growing menace.
Melisende Dulac is a fish out of water after relocating from the East Coast to a small community in the Oregon high desert. But just as she's beginning to think of Barlow County as home, her life takes an ominous turn when she comes upon a grisly multiple car wreck and three shattered bodies on an isolated road outside of town. Near the scene, Melisende trips over a fourth body, that of a newborn girl lying a physics-defying distance from the wreckage. There is no one to claim the infant, nor a clear indication she was even part of the accident.
The crash offers plenty of opportunities for an apprentice mortician--but when the victims' bodies are stolen from her family's mortuary, Melisende is branded suspect number one. Then, Portland lawyer Kendrick Pride arrives on the scene on behalf of one of the victim's families--or so he says--and Melisende begins to see that there's much more to this enigmatic figure than meets the eye.
As the shadows gather and the mystery deepens, Melisende must race to find the truth--or be swallowed by the darkness.
First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, W. H. Cameron, and Crooked Lane Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.
New to the world of W. H. ‘Bill’ Cameron, I was not sure what to expect, but the dust jacket blurb had me wanting to uncover all the nuances of this book. After some troubling times in Boston, Melisende ‘Mel’ Dulac is given a generous opportunity by her estranged husband’s family. She travels to Oregon and is accepted without issue. Unsure what else to do, she takes a job working alongside them as an apprentice undertaker, which has many interesting stories that come along with it. When she witnesses the town football star in the midst of raping a girl, she presses to have charges brought, which does not ingratiate her with many of the townsfolk, but Mel is not all that bothered. However, when she comes upon a multi-vehicle crash along that same stretch of road a few days later, she is forced into action and discovers an abandoned newborn on the side of the road. Rather than doing the dutiful thing, she leaves it, which catches the local paper’s headlines and she is thereafter branded uncaring. However, when she goes to show a family member the body of one of the accident victims, it has gone missing. Could she have misplaced the body and let it disappear? Things only get worse when, at the crematorium, all the bodies from the wreck have apparently been incinerated, leaving no evidence on which the authorities can work. Stripped of the county contract for body removal, Mel turns to seeing who might be trying to run her out of town. Between this and her constant conversations with her deceased brother, Mel cannot tell what is real and how active an imagination she might have. Other things begin happening and it would seem she is again the target some some wrongdoing. Trying to clear her name turns out to be Mel’s main goal, as well as learning more about this rural community and who might have lost a newborn on the side of the road. The mysteries continue to pile up, as Mel seeks to define herself. Those who enjoy slowly revealed thrillers with extensive flashbacks will surely find something in this piece. I was not entirely sold, though am not soured at the same time.
With no previous work to gauge my sentiments, I have to use this piece as the sole yardstick to determine how I feel about Cameron’s work. There is surely a great deal going on within it, with some strong writing and decent character revelations. Melisende has a pile of issues that could—and should, perhaps—be the topic of its own book. From a lacklustre childhood in which her parents all but abandoned her when her brother died, to a marriage that flew off the rails and saw her institutionalize before her husband disappeared, Melisende has lived a full life and is not yet thirty. Her coming West is likely an attempt to reinvent herself, through she is far from docile and quiet while meeting new people. Her gritty attitude surely works in her favour, though she is trying to step on toes and take no prisoners, which is surely not how things are done in Oregon. There is so much for the reader to take in about Melisende that I almost wonder if Cameron ought to have scaled back or, should he have plans for a series, to slowly pepper throughout the narrative of a few books. Others serve as interesting place-settings in the larger plot reveal, complementing and impeding the protagonist throughout. There is a little mystery, some coming of age, and even a few attempts at trying to mend fences, all developed as Melisende crosses paths with others. While some readers panned this book harshly, I found there to be some decent writing and a strong plot throughout. It dragged significantly in the opening portion, but was also weighed down with many flashback portions—some in the middle of a chapter of present-time events—that surely added some confusion for some readers. I can see a great story in here, but some of it needs to be left out or spread into a few books. Melisende is intriguing and I would read more involving her, though I wonder if Cameron wanted to toss it all onto the wall to see what might stick. A mix of chapter lengths kept things moving at times when the pace had almost reached January molasses, which helped me forge ahead and keep an open mind. I’d try another book because of the subject matter, but I really hope many of the constructive comments are incorporated, as I have no patience for a repeat.
Kudos, Mr. Cameron, for this decent mystery. I trust you’ll find your way, as Melisende is, with your next publication.
2.5 stars rounded up to 3. After reading a synopsis of the book I thought it was a story which would appeal to me more than it did. There is much that I found positive. The plot was complex and gripping with some unforeseen twists. The abduction and chase near the end targeting the injured protagonist were frightening and raised the tension.
I did not care enough for the foul-mouthed mortician, Melisende, to be captivated by her fate. I found her to be frequently rude and impulsive. She didn't always make the right decisions which put her in further danger. We do get some backstory to explain her personality and behaviour, but these threads were often left hanging. I thought her t-shirts bearing crude one-liner jokes about the funeral business were appalling and would disturb mourners. Are these even a thing?
It took me a while to sort out the names of all the characters, both living and dead. Having read the book to its end, I thought the conclusion wrapped up the complicated plot with most mysteries resolved and explained, but I thought there were a couple of loose ends I may have missed.
Thanks to NetGalley and Crooked Lane books for the ARC in return for an honest review.
The overall story was very interesting. I think it dragged out a bit in the beginning, but I'm glad I stuck with it. The ending was satisfying, albeit a little bit crazy. I felt like it did take a little too long to get to Mel's backstory and what happened between her and her parents. I also never really felt like the backstory between her and Helene was adequately explained. It would have been nice to get some further detail on that.
Complex, compelling, intensely atmospheric, with masterful writing and gritty, unique characters. Though not a western per se, this book is set in rural central Oregon's high desert and will appeal to crime/mystery readers who enjoy the dark side of writers like Craig Johnson, CJ Box, and Nevada Barr. And if you like your humor on the morbid side, this is definitely in your wheelhouse.
(I was given an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.)
This story took a convoluted way to tell itself, but I was never "lost". I just wondered where we were going. I was on the verge of really liking Melisende, (love the name), but needed a couple more pieces of missing information to get there all the way. I liked the inclusion of Oregon history as the backstory. My dad lives in Montana, but I don't know much about it. I didn't even know there was desert in Oregon!
Melisende is a woman who has been badly wronged by life. The victim of tragedy and bad choices, a final opportunity has landed her in rural Oregon as a mortician's apprentice. One night, she stumbles across a terrible accident that has claimed three lives. At first, it seems simple, but then the victims' bodies disappear. Over the following week, the mystery of their disappearance and the reason behind the accident are unraveled, unmasking secrets that would have remained undiscovered and killers who would have escaped but for Mel.
The book got mixed reviews from others, but I found it fascinating. First, Cameron did a wonderful job weaving in stories of 19th c pioneers, creating a background that was lush and mysterious. Second, the setting - a mix of desert, forest and river - was evocative and believable. Third, the characters were intriguing enough. While I would not say that I could really relate to Mel - too many stones left unturned for me, and too much anger and uneasiness with the world around her - she is an interesting character. While I wouldn't say I was exactly rooting for her by the end, I wanted to see what she would find around every turn.
I think Cameron created a suspenseful, exciting novel. Unlike some of the big thrillers I've recently read, all of his clues eventually point towards the answer to the mystery, and all the ingredients one needs to solve the equation are present from the beginning of the book (well, fifty pages in, but who's counting?). He did a wonderful job releasing the information in little drips, which kept the reader (me) going to the next chapter, constantly seeking the answers. In fact, after a sluggish start, I read the last 3/4 of the book in one day. All in, it's a solid 3.5 stars, rounded to 4 for the Goodreads rating scale
"I am anything but okay. Half the county thinks I'm a body snatcher, and the rest want to feed me to the coyotes over a rapist football player. When I'm not kicking babies, I'm a murderer on the lam. I've repaid everything Uncle Rémy and Aunt Elodie have done for me by jeopardizing the business they've devoted their lives to. I just spent the night in jail. The sheriff thinks I'm crazy. His chief deputy thinks I'm guilty. And the hell of it is, they're not wrong. What kind of dumb bitch takes evidence from a crime scene?"
Melisende Dulac is a mess. Shipped to a small town in Oregon's High Desert country from the East Coast in the wake of a breakdown — the latest upheaval in a young life that's already seen a deserted marriage, familial estrangement and a dead brother who acts as her inner voice — she's given a last chance to do something good with her life by distant relatives she doesn't really know. Their offer: $10,000 and a job picking up bodies for the family's mortuary business. Despite developing a reputation as the town eccentric (she's nicknamed "Spooky'), she seems to be doing well — that is, until on a late-night pickup, she comes across the scene of a crash at a remote crossroad, and a pileup of dead bodies. Except for a live baby. And everybody in town seems to think she knows more about what happened that fateful night than she does, and will go to great lengths to divine that information.
CROSSROAD is a pretty good novel by a pretty good novelist. W.H. Cameron — who's previously published mysteries of depth as Bill Cameron — has a deft touch for deep characterization and an especially sharp eye for place. ("I suspect there's a statute dating back to the Oregon Territory requiring all high desert dives to have a jackalope on display. Probably purchased from the same catalog as the sawdust on the floor.")
He's also not shy about robust plotting. Sometimes that plotting here is so robust that it feels that CROSSROAD has more of it than it can comfortably contain, but sins of ambition are far more forgivable that sins of laziness. CROSSROAD, too, often feels too soggy with backstory and sometimes piles more pathos on Melisende's shoulders than she can carry, but the bottom line is that she is an intriguingly complicated central character who you'll come to care for as she tries to figure out what happened before somebody decides to put the blame for what happened on her — or do worse to her.
Cameron keeps the plot plates spinning at a dizzying pace with the aplomb of the stone pro that he is, and while you may reach the last page less than completely sure of who did what to who and why they did it, and roll your eyes a little at one too many impossibly clever impossible escapes from certain death, you'll stay with this bumpy ride to its satisfying end.
Melisande Dulac is just trying to build a life for herself after several disastrous wrong turns. Apprentice mortician might not be a job for everyone, but it’s a chance Melisande didn’t expect to get, and she’s determined to repay the faith shown in her. Only problem… well, there are a lot of problems, but a series of events which would seem to point the finger of blame squarely at her for a crime she doesn’t even understand leave her no choice. She has to try and figure out what’s really going on, and just why the bodies keep piling up… before she becomes one of them.
Mel’s relationship with her girlfriends, her love for quirky-pun mortician shirts, the way she can’t resist getting involved in the investigation and the way she talks to her brother Fitz (a ghostly presence in her own mind) all make her feel so real. She’d hit absolute rock bottom before ending up in Oregon, but she’s a fighter. Offered a chance, she seizes on with both hands and refuses to let go, even when things look hopeless.
I’m not sure if this is going to be the first in a series, but honestly, I’d really enjoy reading more about Melisande. She’s bisexual, which is something pretty rare to find in heroines in the mystery genre, and there were elements of her past which weren’t fully explored, like why she had a relationship with Helene but then ended up marrying Helene’s brother. And just what did happen to Mel’s husband, anyway? That particular mystery is never explained at all, which makes me think that could be a theme for a later book in the series.
With that said, the actual crimes in this book do get solved very satisfactorily, and very cleverly, with some twists I didn’t see coming at all until they were revealed. Yes, I wanted to read more about Melisande’s own personal dramas, but I don’t think the fact that some things were kept back detracted from this book at all. They made me want to go looking for a second book in the series, and if there was one available at the time of writing this review, you better believe I’d have bought it and read that one too. This grabbed me that much; I really loved it and I’ll be looking out for more of the author’s work. Five stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.
I really struggled with this book and to be quite frank I’m surprised I actually finished it. My main problem was I struggled to follow the plot line which was really complex and even after reading the book there are a lot of unanswered questions. There was also a lot of characters in this book and I found it really difficult to follow who was who.
I was not a big fan of the lead character’s personality and I’m sure you had to wait more than half of the book to get her backstory which did in a way help explain her personality.
It’s a shame as I was looking forward to reading this book having read the synopsis.
I’d like to thank NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this book in return for an honest review.
I loved the mortician humor in this! Melisande seemed like an interesting character, but I wasn't quite satisfied with this book. The plot didn't really grab me. I guess I felt there was too much stuff shoved into this book. This could easily have been a series, and this book could have been simpler, I think that would have worked better.
As a fan of mysteries solved by complicated characters, it's tough to pinpoint what I enjoyed most about CROSSROAD.
Sure, Melisande, such a compelling (if inward-facing) character. Prickly in all ways, but with a tender emotional core buried deep, deep inside, a heart that's suffered more than one person's share of bruising. Or maybe the fact that, because I've spent so much time in Central Oregon's High Desert, it felt like I'd tumbled though the pages and landed in the stark beauty of the wilderness around Bend, Oregon. The sights, the sounds, the smells all came rushing in on the book's observant prose. Or maybe it's just that it's damn easy to fall into a good mystery when you're in the hands of a writer near the pinnacle of their craft.
Having read Mr. Cameron's KADESH novels, I knew I was in for an terrific ride in CROSSROAD, but I wasn't quite prepared for the experience of the deep, atmospheric immersion of the read. I kept thinking, "This book is what would happen if David Lynch filmed an 'Appalachian mystery' he set in Central Oregon, instead."
It's all of that and more. Chapter One starts with a bang, but thereafter, like crossing a mountain pass, the story's ascent is a steady climb toward a downhill run. All tension wound breathlessly tight, until a satisfying denouement that left me teary. I didn't want it to end.
This is probably not a book for a reader interested in a quick, easy-to-read mystery, nor for readers who prefer their mysteries led by clean-cut PIs or retirees with time on their hands. There are character questions left unanswered (for later books, I presume) and important life choices still to make, but if you're a fan of Ron Rash or Kate Atkinson, if complexity and a little darkness in both the mystery and the main character is your jam, CROSSROAD will definitely satisfy.
This could have been SO MUCH better! It needed a tighter story line or better editing or ....something.
I listened to the audio book and while the narrator (Eleanor Caudill) has great voice differentiation and inflection, she mispronounces so many words, it drove me crazy. (Decedent is pronounced "de-cee-dent" not "de-si-dent"!)
There are so many characters! We get enough first and last names to fill a phone book. It was so confusing. An so many dead bodies. This small town is over run with corpses - it's like the zombie apocalypse.
There are side stories that go nowhere - missing husband? psych ward stay? what exactly was Melly's relationship with Helene? football star rapist? And the whole thing with the "uncle" with dementia?
The mystery is interesting and complex enough without throwing all that other crap in. It made the story over long and confusing. At one point I thought I was in the home stretch only to realize that I had 10 (TEN!) more chapters to go. Oi!
Meli is pretty hard to like. She's quick to anger, thinks everyone is talking about her, happy to screw Jeremy then treat him like crap, she wears inappropriate t-shirts (supposed to be funny, I guess) and makes disparaging comments about the recently deceased. I thought we'd discover why she was so vehemently anti-male or why she doesn't like to be touched but we never do. She gets a bit of a sad back story but nothing to explain why she is such a bitch to people in general.
I don't know why authors feel the need to have women drink hard liquor, curse extensively and f*ck around to show that they are either a) tough as nails, b) progressive or c) unstable. It's really annoying and why I tend to stay away from thriller/mysteries with female MCs.
I stuck it out until the end but was disappointed that what could have been a great book ended up just being ok.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
This story could have been a true mess, but turned out to be a wonderful thriller. The main character, Melisende Dulac, is an apprentice at a mortuary in Oregon. She has had a hard life without parents who cared about her. But almost dumb luck, she is rescued by her aunt-in law through marriage to a man who left her.
When she arrived in Oregon, she had no friends, but eventually acquires some through meeting people at diners and because the owners of the funeral home accept her and nurture her. She is a raw person in terms of integrating in polite society, but doesn't care about it.
The plot begins with a horrible scene at which 3 cars and numerous bodies are found by Mel. A baby is also found at the scene. All kinds of ominous and crazy things occur to Mel and the town. She is threatened, accused and more. Her dogged determination to clear herself and find out what happened leads her to danger and the truth.
I enjoyed the fast pace of the story, it's intricacy, and the way it is laid out as Mel sleuths. Some of the characters are forseen by the reader as corrupt and guilty pretty early in the story, but others not so much. There were some twists and turns that fooled the reader.
Many of the characters are complex and interesting. I really enjoyed them.
The story was interesting, but the mystery was difficult to solve because some vital information wasn't given until late in the book. Then, after the mystery was solved, I wondered why the good guy didn't give Mel the real reason for his being there. Of course, since most of the characters were corrupt, confiding in any of them could be dangerous. There was a lot going on in this book, and I think that the character development suffered because of this. The book held my attention, and I wanted to find out what would happen next, even though I didn't care that much about the characters. I wasn't disappointed in the ending, although I thought the corrupt people got carried away with killing off those who were getting close to their secrets. So, though I wasn't disappointed, I still found the ending not as satisfying as it could have been.
This book has all the earmarks of the first in a series: lots of background on and some alluring insight into a complex, troubled protagonist, lots of potentially interesting characters in a smallish, close-knit town with a history (Bend OR), a compelling setting that takes us from the stark beauty of the high desert to mountains and forests and running waters, a personal and professional situation for the protagonist that could put her (as a mortuary worker) in the way of many murders and perhaps other crimes, lots of loose ends in this story that provide numerous options for future stories in a series. I look forward to Melisende #2. I have complaints about the complexity of this first story and the difficulty of keeping track of a large cast of characters, but the writing is clear and evocative and the pace speeds up faster and faster to a slam-bang denouement.
2.5 stars rounded up to 3. This book was a very slow burn style with a very predictable story line. I was hoping for a big twist that didn't arrive. The main character had a dry sense of humor that I enjoyed and I really like flawed characters and she definitely met that criteria. Sadly this book really fell flat for me.
At first I thought this might be too gory, but it wasn’t. It’s a good mystery with thoughtful characters and the plot delves into hard truths of the past and even the present. Worth the time to read. C Meadows.
I wasn't expecting to like this book as much as I did. For a guy who built his career on pulp westerns, he did a decent job of writing a mystery with a strong female lead. I would love to see this become a series.
The first half was so damn boring. But things picked up and made sense nearing the end. Also I said at the beginning that 'if only she liked women, now that would be the only good thing this book has' and turned out....😂
Cameron has hit his stride with this race-to-the-crossing mystery/thriller. Okay, so occasionally the protagonist is her own worst enemy, but then most of us are at one time or another. So put that aside and keep reading.
I would rate this book as just okay for me. I'm not sure if the author is setting up to make this a series but I just felt like there were questions not answered or developed like what happened to her husband and what's the backstory between her and Helene. I was able to understand Melisende better once I knew her backstory. The mystery of what was going on was a bit confusing. There were quite a few characters, not really well developed so you didn't really have an interest in what happened to them. I really think the author is just laying the groundwork for a series and a development more fully of Melisandre and all the other characters.