Edward Wright

Damnation Falls

""… probably ranks as the best book I’ve read during the past year." "


Disgraced Chicago journalist Randall Wilkes returns to Pilgrim's Rest, his hometown, to consider the offer of a job. His childhood friend, Sonny McMahan, is a former state governor who is considering running for re-election. He thinks that his profile might be improved by a flattering autobiography, ghost-written by Randall. Although Randall reluctantly agrees to undertake the task, within days he stumbles upon the murdered body of Sonny's mother Faye McMahan. This is soon followed the murder of others with connections to the McMahan family and by an attempt on Randall's life. These violent events appear to be connected to the body of Confederate soldiers from the Civil War and plans for a conference and research centre focusing on this period of history.

Soon Randall is more interested in discovering why so many of those connected to the McMahan family are being murdered than drafting an autobiography. As he investigates further he is forced to confront the difficult relationship with his father who still lives in the town and his own personal history in order to discover the truth behind the murders.

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As readers of Edward Wright's previous books will know, he is an excellent writer with knack of evoking time and place to narrate a story. In this book the character of Randall Wilkes is the dominant element in the book. His personal journey is the reason why he initially returns to Pilgrim's Rest and also the means by which the investigation is completed. The character of Wilkes is both complex and beguiling. His dubious past does not affect his integrity during the narrative and the reader wills him to reach the conclusion. Other characters in the book are similarly complex. Blue McMahan, Sonny's father, is a conman who is nevertheless revealed to have more depth than his shady life would suggest. Similarly, Randall's upright father, Forrest, has sides to his character that are only gradually revealed. The sub-plot of the town's links with the American Civil War is extremely interesting. The town's claim to fame, centring round a supposed mass burning, is very believable and I am sure that there are many towns throughout the country with similar tales. It is this marrying of traditional detective writing alongside erudite placemaking that elevates Wright's writing above most detective novels. This book is highly recommended and probably ranks as the best book I've read during the past year.

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