Saturday, May 16, 2015

Book Review: One of Us, by Tawni O'Dell

Review by: Rebecca Eve Schweitzer

Official Synopsis:
Dr. Sheridan Doyle, a fastidiously groomed and TV-friendly forensic psychologist, is the go-to shrink for the Philadelphia District Attorney's office whenever a twisted killer's mind eludes other experts. But beneath his Armani pinstripes, he's still Danny Doyle, the awkward, terrified, bullied boy from a blue-collar mining family, plagued by panic attacks and haunted by the tragic death of his little sister and mental unraveling of his mother years ago.

Returning to a hometown grappling with its own ghosts, Danny finds a dead body at the infamous Lost Creek gallows where a band of rebellious Irish miners was once executed. Strangely, the body is connected to the wealthy family responsible for the miners' deaths. Teaming up with veteran detective Rafe, a father-like figure from his youth, Danny, in pursuit of a killer, comes dangerously close to startling truths about his family, his past, and himself.

Some books end better than expected, which is the case with Tawni O’Dell’s latest book, One of Us, but that may be to make up for the difficult trek to reach that point. Despite its claimed genre classifications, this book isn’t a mystery. It’s not a psychological thriller either. It’s a psychological story with some not-quite mysterious intrigue? Maybe.

One of Us opens on the protagonist and primary narrator, Danny, heading home to Lost Creek, which the book goes to great lengths to establish as creepy and mysterious, with lots of mystery and maybe ghosts and even more mysteriousness. During all the town-based pseudo-mystery, One of Us, offers up a ton of town trivia, family backstory and character description. Just when all of this gets supremely boring and the book is a quarter of the way through, a new narrator, Scarlet, suddenly appears to make everything worse.

Without the sections where Scarlet is narrator, which mar the book like the red letter “A” sought to mar Hester Prynne’s reputation, One of Us could have had a shot at a legitimate mystery. Instead, what few details Scarlet doesn’t explicitly explain, she accidently reveals before the book is half over. Danny’s chapters cover the important details without Scarlet’s help and don’t give too much away.

Early in the novel, O’Dell piles on pointless character details even when she’s just spent too much time trying to show us character traits. This repetition suggests she doesn’t trust the reader. She spells everything out. Additionally, the entire novel suffers from poor pacing. It plods along slowly, fails to build suspense, and either tells us nothing or tells us too much. Had the book started on page 115 and eliminated Scarlett's point of view, it would have been much stronger.

It’s not all bad, though. Despite the lack of mystery, the second half of the book gives us a version of Danny that is likable and sympathetic. We finally get to see Danny grow, face fears and stop being boring. I even found myself cheering for him.

One of Us suffers from a lack of focus. Despite that, it, eventually gets to the point - Danny’s journey - and gives us three strong characters in Danny, his grandfather, Tommy, and their long-time friend, Rafe. If you don’t mind the lack of mystery and off-kilter pacing (and you skip Scarlet’s chapters), you’ll find an enjoyable little story with decent prose set in a strange, but close-knit little town.

2.5 stars out of 5.

About the reviewer:
Rebecca Eve Schweitzer is a business to business magazine editor and fashion blogger. You can read more of her writing at


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