A Centuries-Old Massacre Paints New Brushstrokes on a Forensic Artist's Predictable Life
Reviewed in the United States on 5 June 2017
Forensic artist Gwen Marcey's plate is full to overflowing. She's a breast cancer survivor and a divorcee whose reputation was dented after her husband used her travails as the plot for his bestselling novel. On top of that, Gwen juggles a teen daughter acting out her pain, a lovable but unpredictable dog, and demanding forensic work. Her latest case has taken her to Utah and the new interpretive center built around the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857. Gwen expects to sculpt the faces of a few key survivors and be done, until agitators disrupt the center's grand opening and a murderer strikes.
I can safely say A Cry from the Dust is the most suspenseful and unique Christian mystery I've read this year so far, maybe ever. I was drawn to it because of a connection with fundamentalist Mormons and a terrorist group called the Avenging Angels. I love any story with a religious connection, especially one in which religion is used for evil purposes, because that ultimately points to the truth of who Christ is in the right author's hands. Carrie crafted the Mormon connection with deft hands and keen research, while never letting the ball drop on non-religious suspense. I never knew what was coming next, or who was a good or bad guy. A Cry from the Dust also challenged me to ask a new question--not "whodunit," but, "Who is behind this, what do they want, and why? And, why would they kill to get it?"
Gwen Marcey too, is not your typical sleuth. She's not especially brave, though she is intrepid. She doesn't leap at danger or go out seeking adventure. Instead, she's an average person---a mom, a cancer survivor, and a woman trying to keep her life normal after said life threw her one curveball after another. I could relate to that, as I'm sure most readers could. Gwen doesn't come across as Superwoman, which made her a pleasant change to read about. Postscript: kudos to Carrie for painting a cancer survivor as an intrepid heroine who can do and be normal things. Usually, especially in Christian books, cancer survivors are portrayed as too saintly, or on the brink of getting sick again. Gwen was such a nice change on that front.
I love a good plot twist, and Carrie more than delivered on quite a few occasions. A couple of revelations toward the end were absolutely breath-stealing. Looking back, I could see where they came in, which is important--a plot twist should never feel unbelievable. But I loved being surprised and intrigued. Good work again, Carrie.
I'm not sure I liked all Carrie's POV choices in this book. The first switch from first to third person is jarring, and at one point, she head-hops in the same scene. A few explanations of events were a little clunky, requiring a second read-through to keep them straight. Also, I appreciate Christianity was not in your face during A Cry from the Dust. However, I'd have liked to see a little more faith from Gwen and Beth. Aside from praying, stating that things happen for a reason, and in the case of Gwen, eventually surrendering to God, there wasn't much. Again, I don't need it on every page--just would've liked a little more. Overall though, I'm looking forward to more adventures with Gwen.
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