a review by Elizabeth White
“Lil, you got some dark thoughts runnin’ through your head. I understand why they’re there, but you got to push them away when they start crowdin’ in on you. Otherwise they’ll take over.” – Jesse Robb
Still reeling from the devastating events that occurred in series debut The Damage Done, travel writer Lily Moore has been coaxed into going on a trip to Peru to hike the Inca Trail with her best friend, photographer Jesse Robb. Jesse figures that a combined vacation / work outing is just what Lily needs to help drag her out of the claws of grief and depression. Unfortunately, fate has other plans for Lily.
She and Jesse are enjoying the misty early morning views at the famous Inca city of Machu Picchu when they overhear an argument, followed a few minutes later by a scream cut ominously short. Upon investigating, they find a severely injured woman lying at the bottom of a steep stone staircase. Jesse goes for help while Lily tries to comfort the woman, who is obviously near death.
While going in and out of lucidity the woman tells Lily she was forced by her boyfriend, Len, to drink something that made her sick and disoriented, then pushed her down the stairs. When the woman dies shortly after help arrives Lily tells the police what she said, but the authorities seem perfectly happy to write the death off as an accident. Lily isn’t willing to let it go at that, however, and her subsequent poking around uncovers a very disturbing piece of information; the woman at the bottom of the staircase isn’t the first to end up dead after being involved with Len.
One of the reasons the police are so eager to dismiss the death as accidental is because of clear signs – track marks, cocaine under her fingernails – that the woman was a drug addict. Having gone through the painful process of dealing with a drug addict in the family, Lily is outraged that a woman’s life is being so casually dismissed as worthless. Between her anger at the injustice being done and her curiosity about the information she dug up on Len, well, Lily is going to get to the bottom of things whether the police are willing to or not. The police aren’t the only ones who’d just assume the matter be left alone, however, and before she knows it Lily and Jesse are caught up in a web of corruption and evil more complex than she could possibly have imagined.
Herself a seasoned travel writer, author Hilary Davidson brings the setting of Peru to life in a way only one who’s been there could. Her descriptions of everything from the ruins of Machu Picchu to the slums tucked away just outside the tourists’s beaten path to the magnificent cathedrals to the local cuisine (I really, really want to try some authentic olluquito con charqui, which sounds fabulous) are absolutely exquisite. Davidson makes the locale a character unto itself, and does so in a way that balances both the beauty and the danger that await foreigners who travel to such an exotic location.
Similarly, Davidson’s handling of the grief haunting Lily is nothing short of masterful. Far from being some clearly definable “thing” that Lily can simply meet head on and be done with, Davidson demonstrates how grief can become insidious, worming its way into the very fiber of a person’s being. As The Next One to Fall begins that grief is something deeply haunting Lily, “crowdin’ in on her” as Jesse puts it. As the story progresses, however, Davidson allows Lily to use that grief to propel her in a positive way, taking its energy and turning it outward into a productive, rather than destructive, force. It’s an amazing transformation, one which is a genuine pleasure to watch unfold over the course of events. The supporting cast members are no less psychologically complex, with Davidson deftly pacing the twists and reveals to build maximum suspense and mystery.
Davidson’s debut, The Damage Done, won both the 2011 Anthony Award and Crimespree Award for Best First Novel , and was also a finalist for both the Arthur Ellis and Macavity awards. Folks, that was no fluke and Davidson is most definitely no one-hit wonder. It was hard to imagine when I named The Damage Done one of my Top 10 Reads of 2010 that Davidson would be able to top it, but I’ll be damned if she hasn’t. Davidson better polish up her dress shoes and buy a new party dress, becauseThe Next One to Fall is going to take her to another round of awards ceremonies, that’s for sure.
The Next One to Fall is available from Forge Books (ISBN: 978-0765326980).
Elizabeth A. White is an avid reader and book blogger, especially crime fiction/noir, who also loves cooking, wine, tacos, chocolate milk, and hard rock music. In addition to her book review site, Book Reviews by Elizabeth A. White, she’s also been the content manager for musician Bruce Kulick’s official site for fifteen years.