We Begin At The End
How to categorize this book? Family drama? Murder mystery? Coming of age tale? It really is all of the above, and a gem, at that. Witty, smart, and succinct? Yes. Full of twists and turns? Yes. Painful? Yes. Heart-rending? Yes. Boring? No!
I had been looking for a book that would hook me in the first few pages, and We Begin at the End did. The story opens with a crime, committed thirty years earlier, then fast-forwards to the imminent release from prison of the man convicted of committing it. Though the initial focus is on Police Chief Walker, known to the world as Walk and best friend of the man about to be freed, our hearts are quickly snagged by 13-year-old Duchess Radley and her 5-year-old brother Robin.
They live with their single mother in a small coastal California town. Mom is a mess, as, deep down, are so many of the townsfolk, much of it stemming back to that crime thirty years before. These characters are flawed but so human that even the worst are a tad likable and oh-so-relatable to us.
Moving from the cloistered life of this coastal community to the open spaces of Montana and back, the plot revolves around events unleashed by the killer’s return. Omens portend omens. Another death, and the stability of the town is gone. Children are sent to live with a grandfather they’ve never met. Guilt haunts the survivors, burrowing deep but never deep enough.
Duchess, our 13-year-old, is brilliant. Living with an undercurrent of danger, she is forced to be at the same time kind and cruel, caring and cold. The author claims that he spent a full year on Duchess alone, getting her right. His time was well spent. Her actions, her words, her emotions are spot on. She is as memorable a heroine as I’ve read of late.
We Begin at the End is an eloquent story of what people do for those they love – and yes, I know, this theme is far from new. Whitaker’s handling of it is, though. What sets this book apart is the blurring of good and evil in each of its characters. I’m still thinking about that.
Is there anything better than when a book grabs you, holds you, and refuses to let go?