Savage Ridge by Morgan Greene

Morgan Greene’s new thriller, Savage Ridge, is named for the tiny Northwest US town where the action takes place. Ten years before the now of the story, three teenage best friends—Nicholas Pips, Emmy Nailer, and Peter Sachs—committed murder. (Not a spoiler; you find this out on page one.) Though they were suspects in the crime, an air-tight alibi set them free. For the last decade, they have been deliberately out of touch with each other, scattered across the western United States. Now, within days of each other, they’ve arrived back at their home town, where the ghosts of the past confront them on every street and around every corner. Coincidence? Not a chance.

The story is told in chapters that alternate then and now—the time of the murder and the current day. And they alternate perspectives—mostly those of Nicholas Pips; the long-time sheriff, Barry Poplar; Ellison Saint John, son of the wealthiest man in the valley and brother of the deceased, Sammy Saint John; and Sloane Yo, a private detective Ellison has hired to reexamine the case. Her first assignment—bring all three of them back—is a success.

Sachs has thrived in his new life away from Savage Ridge, Pips has had a mediocre decade, and Nailer is a mess. None of them escapes the guilt they feel about the murder, no matter how much they reassure each other that it was wholly justified. The crime looms over them like the steep hillsides loom over the town, their pine forests jagged sentinels against the sky, ever watching, and darkening the outlook of the people below. Nor are the three friends exactly the same people they were ten years before and, as the story progresses, the absolute trust they once had in each other is increasingly, dangerously, shaky.

Yo’s investigations reveal Sammy was much disliked by his classmates and had zero friends. He was not the golden boy his father and brother pretend he was, but the product of an entitled, autocratic, abusive man. Now, ten years later, the father is dying, and Ellison desperately hopes that, by pinning the crime on his only suspects—Pips, Nailer, and Sachs—he can gain his father’s respect at last. If it isn’t soon, it will be too late.

The story is an interesting kind of psychological thriller, because of the careful construction of the mental states of the three killers. Their reactions, their jockeying with Yo (who circles ever-closer) and with each other create much of the tension.

Savage Ridge is also a fascinating study of small-town life. Everyone knows everyone else, everyone has felt the overweening power of the Saint John family.

For me, this book was a real page-turner. Although you know all along who committed the crime, the why is unstated for a long time. Meanwhile, the characterizations are so strong, I found myself really invested in the fates of all three of the friends, and Sloane Yo, too.

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