Crime thrillers rarely have child protagonists, but 13-year-old Duchess Radley will captivate readers of all ages in Chris Whitaker’s latest literary crime novel We Begin At The End.
His third novel is set in the early 2000s in a small town in California. Vincent King has just been released from jail after 30 years following the murder of a child. He returns to the seaside town of Cape Haven where those touched by the murder remain deeply damaged.
Star Radley – the dead child’s sister and King’s ex-girlfriend – is a troubled woman dealing with substance abuse. She often neglects her two children, Duchess and Robin, and Duchess is often left mothering her younger brother. Meanwhile, King’s best friend, Police Chief Walker, picks him up from jail with the hope of reigniting their friendship.
The novel has a slow start but as you move through the short chapters you begin to feel emotionally connected to the characters and become enthralled by the plot. The dialogue in the book also picks up pace after a second murder is discovered in the town. The character of Duchess, who was dealt a bad hand at birth, is particularly captivating. She is fierce, hot-headed and courageous. At the same time, she is vulnerable and desperate for safety. The descriptions of Duchess protecting and caring for her six-year-old brother are touching and devastating.
It is rare for characters in a crime novel to have lasting emotional impact on a reader, but the child characters stay with you long after the final pages. In addition to the superb character development, the book goes beyond just a murder mystery to also examine family life, justice, illness and the safety and protection of children.
We Begin At The End is a beautifully written novel, both gripping in plot and rich in character development.