When a murder echoing a 15-year-old cold case rocks the Southern town of Savannah, crime reporter Harper McClain risks everything to find the identity of this calculated killer in Christi Daugherty's new novel The Echo Killing.
I was immediately pulled into this novel and read it in just a few sittings over two days. This might be Christi Daugherty’s first novel for adults, but her storytelling skills have been well-honed by the five novels she’s written for young-adult readers.
Adults who read YA novels often say they do so because the focus is on telling a good story without the clutter of gratuitous sex and violence that is often found in adult novels. Daugherty’s success with writing for young adults is evident in that she’s written a solid story with steady action that does not involve a complicated and/or superfluous subplot. Sure, there is some sex and violence in the book, but it is seasoning rather than the main course.
At 22 years old, Daugherty started working as a crime reporter in Georgia. Her experience and familiarity with the job and the setting are evident from page one of the novel:
It was one of those nights.
Early on there was a flicker of hope—a couple of stabbings, a car wreck with potential. But the sounds weren’t serious and the accident was routine. After that it fell quiet.
A quiet night is the worst thing that can happen to a crime reporter.
With just an hour to go until her midnight deadline, Harper McClain sat alone in the empty newsroom with no story to write, doing the one thing she despised most in the world—a crossword puzzle.
The reader is dropped right into Harper’s life and isn’t released until the last line of the book. She’s 27 years old and has covered crime at the Daily News for seven years. There’s a naturalness about her as she drives to crime scenes with her freelance photographer side-kick, Miles Jackson, and walks the dark streets talking with cops, witnesses, and sometimes the victims and/or criminals involved.
There’s no sense of exoticness to what she’s doing—it’s her job, and she does it very well. She’s not jaded or bitter, which also adds to the freshness of her character. Daugherty’s real-life experience as a crime reporter no doubt makes Harper seem so real and natural—like she belongs on the streets. There’s realistic banter with cops and paramedics as well as insider information such as how one out of two suspects will fake an overdose so they can be taken to the hospital rather than the county jail.
Harper works well with the Savannah Police Department and not only because she’s a professional. After her mother was murdered when Harper was 12 and her father flaked out on her, she lived with her grandmother and was also partially raised by the police, particularly Lieutenant Smith, who was the officer in charge of her the day her mother was killed.
She’s strong and independent but with a subtlety that avoids making it painfully clear to the reader that she’s an Independent Woman. Harper is who she is because of the life she’s lived and the life she’s created for herself. There’s a potential love interest with someone she’s known for seven years, but otherwise, Harper’s got her routine and life down pat. She might be a bit of a workaholic, but she makes time for dinners with Lt. Smith and his family and occasionally hangs out with her best friend, Bonnie.
Until one day when she shows up at a crime scene—a woman is found murdered in her kitchen and is discovered by her 12-year-old daughter after school. Harper sees the girl out front of the house looking like a mirror image of her younger self when, 15 years before, she was that same traumatized girl. After seeing the girl, Harper feels an urgency to see the crime scene. She sneaks through the police line and gets a look through the kitchen window. What she sees stuns her: the crime scene looks EXACTLY like her mother’s murder.
Her mother’s murder was never solved, and when it becomes apparent that this case is growing cold, Harper keeps digging into everything she can find about the new case and her mother’s case as well. She’s warned to stop but doesn’t. She can’t. She’s propelled by the hope that solving this murder will solve her mother’s murder. Along the way, she butts heads with various police personnel and her editors, risking all she has to get at the truth.
And I went along with it all, hook, line, and sinker. When other characters tell Harper she’s becoming obsessed and reckless, I defended her (in my head) and told her to keep going (also in my head). Daugherty does a great job of placing some red herrings along the way. The person who I was thinking did it, didn’t.
There is good use of Savannah as the setting. At times, I could smell the river and see through Harper’s eyes, such as her description of the optical illusion created by a huge container ship that makes it look like the buildings along the shore are moving rather than the boat. There are some fictionalized locations that seemed real when I was reading about them (Daugherty mentions some of these in her acknowledgments), which added a sense of place, atmosphere, and history. This is a Southern novel without the standard Southern caricatures.
In the end, I was left with a sense of having read a story full of real scenes with real people. The plot is fresh and well-done. It’s a solid mystery with some good suspense. The main mystery is solved, but there are some threads left dangling for a second book in the series, which I’m happy to note is coming out in 2019.
To learn more or order a copy, visit:
Chris Wolak is an avid reader of crime fiction, history, and classics. She writes about books at WildmooBooks.com and is the cohost of the podcast Book Cougars. You can also find her on Twitter @chriswolak.