The Edgar Awards Revisited: Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy (Best Novel, 2016)

The true strength of Lori Roy's Let Me Die in His Footsteps lies in its southern gothic mysticism, its depiction of relationships between family and neighbors, and the secrets kept and passed on through generations.

Let Me Die in His Footsteps, the 2016 Edgar Award winner written by Lori Roy, had been on my TBR list ever since I first saw the original hardcover jacket. It depicts a young woman in a white dress, lying in a field of vibrant purple lavender. The paperback cover image also features rows and rows of lavender, though in a color scheme that feels slightly more muted and a little more menacing. But either way, whether it’s thanks to the memorable jacket design, Lori Roy’s lyrical, powerful writing, or some combination of the two, a faint smell of lavender seemed to waft off the pages as I read.

Let Me Die in His Footsteps is a southern gothic novel imbued with tradition and superstition; it’s just as much a coming-of-age story and family saga as it is a mystery novel. The book opens with Annie Holleran preparing to take part in an important ritual: in the rural Kentucky town where this story takes place, on the night exactly halfway between their fifteenth and sixteenth birthdays, it’s tradition for girls to look deep into a well to see the face of the boy she’ll eventually marry. Annie, whose black eyes spark distrust in her neighbors, decides to visit the well located on the neighboring Baines farm to see the face of her future husband. The problem is, everyone knows that Hollerans and Baines don’t mix. And when Annie happens upon the body of Cora Baine among the tobacco plants, she becomes a suspect. 

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The plot of the book is told from two perspectives: Annie’s, and her mother, Sarah Crowley’s, 16 years earlier. It’s from Sarah’s perspective that we begin to unravel the real story of what caused the bad blood between the two families, almost two decades prior. One afternoon, Sarah’s sister, Juna—who has the same unsettling black eyes as Annie—takes their baby brother Dale to go berry picking. The Crowleys are known to have bad luck, and although Juna tells her father that it’s a bad day to be out in the sun, he insists that they go. Many hours later, Juna returns alone, looking battered and sunburned. Dale is nowhere to be found.

What follows goes down in local history as a dark, evil event. Joseph Carl Baine, from the neighboring farm, is accused of harming Dale and taking advantage of Juna. He’s quickly hanged, despite plenty of skepticism that he was guilty. And shortly after his execution, the pregnant Juna disappears.

Back in the present, Annie feels something in the air. She has the “know-how”, a sixth sense that something’s going to happen before it happens—another trait else she shares with her Aunt Juna. Is the long-missing Juna finally coming home? Is there reason to be suspicious of the death of Cora Baine, an old woman? And most importantly, what really happened between Juna and Joseph Carl Baine all those years ago? 

These mysteries stay at the forefront of Let Me Die in His Footsteps, but the novel’s true strength lies in its southern gothic mysticism, its depiction of relationships between family and neighbors, and the secrets kept and passed on through generations. 

Notes from the 2016 Edgar Awards:

  • Roy beat out Duane Swierczynski (Canary), David C. Taylor (Night Life), Michael Robotham (Life or Death), Philip Kerr (The Lady from Zagreb), and M.J. Carter (The Strangler Vine) for the Best Novel Edgar.
  • Viet Thanh Nguyen took home the Best First Novel for his The Sympathizer. He beat out Glen Erik Hamilton’s Past Crimes, David Joy’s Where All Light Tends to Go, Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive, and Rebecca Scherm’s Unbecoming.
  • The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards won the Best Biography.
  • Whipping Boy: The Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old Bully by Allen Kurzweil won Best Fact Crime.
  • Best Short Story went to Stephen King for “Obits,” beating out entries from Denise Mina, Avi, Matthew Baker, Kevin Sands, and Lauren Oliver/H.C. Chester.
  • Lori Rader-Day’s Little Pretty Things won the Mary Higgins Clark Award.
  • Walter Mosley served as the Grand Master.

We’ll see everyone back here next week as Larry Clow returns to review Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, the 2017 Edgar Award winner of Best Novel. See you then!

A special thanks goes out to The Mysterious Bookshop for donating many of the review copies of the award-winning books. For the latest on all new releases, as well as classic books for your collections, make sure to sign up for their newsletter.

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