Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Review: The Night Flowers, by Sara Herchenroether


The Night Flowers, by Sara Herchenroether. Fiction, Crime Fiction. Tin House, 2023.

Tin House is one of my favorite small presses; I almost always love anything of theirs I read. They are one of my go-tos for thoughtful, interesting fiction and The Night Flowers did not disappoint.

Laura MacDonald is a breast cancer survivor and librarian who is also an amateur genealogist; she uses her skills to help her patrons, and to further her own interest in true crime.  As the book opens she's just endured a grueling surgery and health crisis. She's also come upon a murder based in New Mexico; a young woman found dead with two children. In New Mexico, Detective Jean Martinez is working the cold case desk and trying to find the identity of the three dead people after more than twenty years. Laura travels to New Mexico and approaches Jean with what she's found. After a period of hesitation, the two women work together to identify the killer and bring him to justice.

As volume-ones in crime series go, The Night Flowers is a fun, interesting, well-structured read. It's character driven, which makes sense, because we're just getting to know these people- it's like their origin story, or the origin story of their partnership. The setting of New Mexico is vivid and immediate; I could feel the hot sand in my hair. Herchenroether also develops the victims' personalities through intermittent chapters that deepen the suspense and give them a voice. In other words crime fiction is littered with dead women, and while this book is no exception to that trope, it's nice that the author gives them some depth.

The book sort of reminded me of A Bad Day for Sorry, a crime novel I read a long time ago about women seeking justice for other women. I liked how Herchenroether mixed Laura's cancer story, Jean's marriage dynamic, the DNA pieces, and the backstory of the community where all this takes place alongside the victim's detailed story. I found the chapters in the victim's voice to be an interesting break from the traditional narrative. And I hope to see more books with Jean and Laura solving cold cases in the desert.

FTC Disclosure: I received an advance copy from Tin House though no review was promised.

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