This book has it all: an amazing combination of mystery, romance and family dysfunction, with dark secrets from the past. Above all, it’s an ode to kind of pull that brings you back to the place you grew up, even after you’ve tried to leave it. I have felt this pull myself drawing me back to our family ranch in Colorado.
In this case, The Home Place is a ranch east of Billings, Montana. The author has a gift for evoking its hold on her protagonist, Alma, a successful young Seattle attorney who has tried to escape it. Alma returns to Billings for the funeral of her drug-abusing younger sister, Vickie, who has died under mysterious circumstances. During the next six days, Alma tangles with an unscrupulous oil developer trying to acquire her family’s home place, a brutal uncle and his sickly wife, her gay brother, and her degenerate sister’s circle of unsavory friends. As she works to solve the mystery of her sister’s death, she must find a way to take care of her seven-year old orphaned niece, and choose between her Seattle boyfriend and her Billings high school sweetheart, a rancher named Chance Murphy.
Carrie LaSeur is adept at weaving back-story into the unfolding present in a way that doesn’t detract from the drama. As an author myself, I was captivated by the way she uses gestures and expressions to convey emotion and by her use of images like this one describing tough frontier women as winter aspens, “bare of ornament, stark, giving the appearance of death, yet green and resilient at the core, and tied to the place and the people with a vast network of unseen roots.” And her opening lines personifying the cold in Montana gave me, well, chills.
I couldn’t disagree more with the reviewers who dismiss this book as a romance novel disguised as literary fiction. It’s got a bit of romance, to be sure, but it is so much more than that. I give it five stars.