Erica’s Pick of the Week: Fallen Mountains

I did not go looking for Fallen Mountains. Several months ago, I needed a Hoopla title for my mystery book club and wanted something different than the lighter fare we’d been reading lately — all good books, certainly, but variety is the spice of a reading life, and I was determined to find something new. Somehow, I stumbled across Kimi Cunningham Grant’s novel, found myself intrigued, and decided to roll the dice.

Our entire group would agree it was a winning bet. Fallen Mountains is a hidden gem of a mystery, with a sense of place and a thoughtful style that will appeal to fans of William Kent Kreuger and Julia Keller.

Transom Schultz is not a good guy. Charismatic, determined, savvy, powerful — yes. But good? Decent, even? Not really. So when Transom’s fiancée reports him missing, Sheriff John “Red” Rediefer reluctantly puts off his retirement until he can locate the town’s prodigal son. In the process, Red uncovers a web of violence and betrayals, stretching back decades, with Transom at the center.

The plot unfolds in two timelines: Before and After. In Before, we see Transom’s return to Fallen Mountains, Pennsylvania, after nearly two decades away. Ostensibly he’s returned to help his best friend Chase cope with a death in the family, but it soon becomes clear that he’s got an agenda that will leave Chase devastated. There are plenty of other people nervous about his return, too — Laney, worried her secret history with Transom will be revealed; Possum, a victim of Transom’s bullying with a violent past of his own; and Red himself, wracked with guilt over a long-ago decision. In a town as small as Fallen Mountains, however, it’s impossible to avoid people forever, and as the characters’ lives intertwine even more tightly, the tension mounts.

In the After timeline, Red doggedly investigates Transom’s disappearance. What he finds sheds light on the past and reveals his own character — a decent man, still mired in grief after his wife’s death, still haunted by guilt over his own choices. He’s tired and sad and afraid of what he’ll find — but he pursues the truth nevertheless. And as he does, you begin to hope that Red, at least, will find some measure of peace.

There’s nothing flashy about Fallen Mountains — the town or the book. But the characters are all compelling, nuanced and deeply felt. And the setting – a run-down town ravaged by a stalled economy, fracking, and opioid addiction — is practically a character in itself. The author, Kimi Cunningham Grant, has a keen eye for the tiny observations that reveal a world of emotion or truth — fitting, as she’s also a poet and memoirist. Like any good mystery, there are red herrings and misdirections, but ultimately, there are no loose threads — just a sense of justice and hope.

Fallen Mountains isn’t a fast-paced, twisty read with a shock ending (a mystery genre that rarely shocks me these days). Instead, it’s a quiet, gorgeously told mystery with an ending that feels fitting and well-earned — and both the town and its denizens will stay with you far longer than you might expect.

Author Kimi Cunningham Grant; photo by Ann Bickel

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