Myers meets James Ellroy’s characterization of Noir as “the wrong man and the wrong woman in perfect misalliance. It’s the nightmare of flawed souls with big dreams and the precise how and why of the all-time sure thing that goes bad … it canonizes the inherent human urge toward self-destruction.”
Former Marine and small-town police chief, Karl Myers is one of four principal characters, each of whom hurtle headlong toward personal demolition; the others are Jerry and Vivian Peterman and their 12-year-old son, Greg.
Myers’ marriage had dissolved before the beginning of World War II, and the life that has followed has been a life lived in the strange world of uniforms where a man, surrounded by hundreds of other souls, can find himself sucked into an unyielding vortex of loneliness, which threatens to drown his soul.
Jerry’s abuse of Greg and Vivian, and Vivian’s rationalizations for accepting it, have created a dysfunctional family that is on the brink of collapse when Greg’s best friend, Moses, is brutally murdered. Greg, along with the reader, knows what has happened, and the boy is fearful of his father’s certain retribution, but Greg successfully hides the truth from his family and from Myers until Myers resolves the mystery almost too late to save the victim’s sister, who is in a catatonic state caused by the trauma of having witnessed her brother’s murder.
Complicating Myers’ challenges are the attitudes of too many White residents in Sussex County toward their Black neighbors–like Moses’ African-American mother–attitudes that reflect the enduring White supremacist beliefs of the Confederacy; for example, schools and many public places, including hotel accommodations and beaches, are still segregated in Lewes in 1955.
Another war has a bearing on the people of Lewes and the nation in 1955: the crucible of World War II produced a generation of heroes who understood manhood as a stoic duty that demanded complete intolerance of weakness. Many returned from battle eager to raise sons who would be prepared to bear the responsibilities of a hard world. Military service had forged warrior personas by replacing personal will with unquestioned obedience, the denial of which threatened pain and humiliation or worse.
Many veterans returned from the war believing their sons would benefit from the same demanding discipline that they had followed on the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific; unfortunately, unyielding expectations communicated through clenched teeth or china-rattling shouts, often reinforced with untempered smacks from calloused hands, or worse, a father’s disdain applied to the soft underbelly of a child’s’ ego, spawned a cadre of boys in the 1950s who craved the approval of their fathers while being simultaneously terrified of them.
Myers is a murder mystery that is less about “who done it” than it is about exploring the trauma of a world still reeling from the fallout of World War II in an American town that has yet to resolve the fallout of the Civil War. The author writes with an excellent sense for tension and humanity with such attention to detail that readers can imagine the choking, claustrophobic lives led by wives of war-traumatized veterans. There is a distinct sense of time in the book, which works to its overall advantage. In Myers, 1955 comes to life in a profound way.
As a warning to more squeamish readers, there are points of serious brutality in the book, but they are necessary to the plot, rather than gratuitous violence. All the same, this brutality may offend some readers, but overall, Myers is a highly readable, tension-filled novel that will hold readers through to the very end.
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