Book Review: Fallout by Carrie Stuart Parks
Sam Williams has built a nice, quiet life for herself as an elementary school art teacher in rural LaCrosse, Washington. After her parents died when she was a little girl, she was taken in by a strict aunt who taught her how to run a farm and be self-sufficient. While Sam eventually went off to college to study art, she’s never really recovered from the traumas of her childhood. Nowadays, she’s happy to have a social life that revolves almost entirely around books, her students, and evenings spent in tranquil solitude at her home a good distance outside of LaCrosse proper.
That all changes when a black SUV plows into the classroom where she’s teaching an afterschool art class. Sam manages to get her kids out safely, but her own car is wrecked in the collision, with her purse and keys buried under the rubble. When Mary Thompson, a newcomer to LaCrosse with her own set of questions for the police, offers Sam a place to stay in town while everything gets sorted out, our heroine accepts gratefully in spite of her reluctance to be a burden.
The women quickly bond despite Mary’s gentle teasing over Sam’s old-fashioned, often quirky ways:
She picked up a couple of my blouses and looked at them. “Gray? Black? Are you a nun or something? Don’t you wear anything colorful?”
I took them from her. “These are obsidian and smoke. That’s colorful.” I tossed them in the dryer.
She shrugged and moved toward the front door. “You dress like the landscape around here. Drab.”
“I like to think of my wardrobe as steady and conservative.”
“Safe.” The word slipped out before I could stop it.
Mary gave me a strange look. “Oookay. Do you want to talk about it?”
Sam doesn’t want to talk about it, but as things start getting weirder, she becomes ever more grateful for Mary’s supportive presence. First, Sam’s purse is returned in the creepiest way possible. Then her apartment is trashed. Could all this have something to do with the tragedies of her past? And what is the connection between what’s happening and the mysterious Clan Firinn, a secretive rehab center located outside of town?
The most obvious link is the fact that both of the people in the black SUV are affiliated with the facility. Dr Beatrice Greer does not survive the crash but her passenger, Dr. Dustin “Dutch” Van Seters, emerges with a broken arm and a lot of guilt, born of his own survivor’s trauma. He reaches out to Sam, offering both her and Mary a safe place to stay at the center while the investigations – both official and Clan Firinn’s – are underway. Something sinister is going on, and after learning that the accident only happened because Beatrice was shot by a sniper, he’s determined to get to the bottom of things before anyone else gets hurt or worse.
As Sam and Dutch join forces, they uncover alarming secrets not only about their pasts and Clan Firinn, but also about the seemingly sleepy part of the Pacific Northwest they’ve always viewed as a pastoral escape from the tensions of modern life. Carrie Stuart Parks delves into a little publicized chapter of American history to provide readers with a fascinating tale of deception and death, while rightfully skewering modern conspiracy theories (and showing off her love of classic children’s literature):
“I was just kidding, Leroy.” Dutch reached out to keep the other man from getting out of the car.
Leroy shook off Dutch’s hand. “I know about these things.” He turned off the engine. “The Illuminati. New World Order. I should have seen it as soon as we went to Suttonville. That was their practice. And now we’re next.” He got out of the car and slammed the door.
“Do you have any idea what he’s talking about?” I asked Dutch.
“I suspect he’s been reading something other than Dr. Seuss.”
“And he said our conversation about the Wizard of Oz was stupid.”
Fallout is a well-plotted tale of the aftermath of vengeance, navigated by a socially awkward but endearing heroine who isn’t sure who to trust after her peaceful existence is turned upside down by violence. I was impressed by the author’s willingness to ground her story in a part of our history that deserves more recognition, as well as by the humor and warmth she uses to alleviate the chilling twists. I especially liked Sam and Mary’s banter and burgeoning friendship as they uncover the true history of their area. Their flaws and realistic personality traits made them all the more believable as characters you really want to root for, in this Christian thriller that understands that the past will never stay buried until it has truly been reckoned with.