Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. I always enjoy getting reading recommendations from bookish friends. They broaden my reading perspective, and often invite me to ‘meet’ authors whose work I wouldn’t otherwise know. Today’s spotlight shines on one of them, Spencer Quinn’s The Right Side. Many thanks to Carol at Reading, Writing, and Riesling for the recommendation. By the way, you’ll want to make Carol’s one of your blog stops. Fine book reviews, great recipes, and some fabulous ‘photos await you.
You may be familiar with Quinn’s Chet and Bernie series. This novel, though, isn’t in that series; it’s a standalone. Readers who’d like to get to know Quinn’s writing, but don’t want to commit to a series, may want to know that.
The novel begins as US Army Sergeant LeAnn Hogan is working through part of a healing process at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Maryland. She was on active duty in Afghanistan when she was badly injured in a bombing. She’s lost her right eye, and the right side of her face is badly scarred. But her injuries are as much psychological as physical, as she’s also coping with PTSD. Still, the doctors are hoping she’ll be able to make use of a prosthetic eye, and that her physical scars can at least be improved with surgery.
While she’s at Walter Reed, LeAnne forms a friendship with her hospital roommate, Marci Cummings. Marci was badly injured in Iraq, and is getting physical therapy to learn to use her new prosthetic leg. Both women are recovering from serious physical and psychological wounding, so they form a bond. Then, Marci unexpectedly dies. With that important source of support gone, LeAnne decides to leave Walter Reed.
Seeking a sort of solace, LeAnne begins a cross-country trip that will take her to Bellville, Washington, Marci’s home town. Along the way, she confronts some of her ghosts and nightmares, and begins to put some of the pieces of life back together. Finally, she makes it to Washington.
LeAnne arrives in Bellville just a bit too late to attend Marci’s funeral, but she does want to pay her respects to Marci’s mother, Coreen. That’s when she discovers, to her shock, that Marci’s eight-year-old daughter, Mia, has gone missing. Search parties are sent out, the police are involved, and everyone’s hoping the child will be found unharmed. LeAnne wants to help find Mia; and, although she doesn’t really know anyone in town, she starts to ask questions.
Soon enough, LeAnne discovers that not everyone is enthused about her interest in Mia’ disappearance. Some people are downright hostile; others are evasive. But that just makes LeAnne more determined, especially as time goes by and it becomes more and more likely that Mia may have come to harm.
In the meantime, LeAnne’s been hearing from Captain Gerald Stallings, who’s working to investigate the bombing that wounded LeAnne (and killed and injured others). There’s a good possibility that things are not what they seem, and he wants LeAnne’s help. But there’s a lot she can’t remember, and even more that she doesn’t choose to rehash. So, she’s very reluctant to get involved in this investigation. But circumstances make it impossible for her to refuse, so she will have to face what happened.
In the midst of all of this, LeAnne meets a stray dog who seems to adopt her. At first, she wants nothing to do with the animal. But the dog won’t leave her side, and LeAnne ends up informally adopting her, calling her Goody. In the end, with help from Goody and some of the humans she’s met, LeAnne gets to the truth about Mia, and about what happened in Afghanistan. And she begins the real process of healing.
One of the important elements in this novel is LeAnne’s process of recovery. It’s a long, difficult, painful, sometimes very ugly struggle, and Quinn doesn’t mince words. LeAnne has flashbacks, nightmares, and physical pain. She struggles psychologically, too, and sometimes lashes out when it’s not appropriate. And she makes her share of poor choices. Very slowly, though, we see her begin to come to terms with her injuries, and it’s not spoiling the story to say that by the end of the novel, she’s finding some peace
The story is told from LeAnne’s point of view (third person, past tense), so we learn a lot about her. As she travels across the country, readers learn about her successful pole-vaulting career, her father’s death, her decision to join the military, and her experiences in Afghanistan. We also learn about her parents and some of the other people in her life. A good deal of this is told in flashback form; readers who dislike that approach to telling a story will notice this. The story isn’t told in a strictly chronological way, so readers will want to be aware as the timeline shifts.
The mysteries – what really happened in Afghanistan, and what’s happened to Mia – are also important elements in the novel. Little by little, as LeAnne begins to recover some memory, we learn the truth about that mission, and about the bombing. And, as she keeps asking questions and searching for answers, LeAnne also finds out the truth about Mia.
The Right Side is the story of a military veteran coming to terms with what’s happened in her life. It features two mysteries that force her to face herself, and shows the process of healing from trauma, especially when it’s helped along by reaching out to others. But what’s your view? Have you read The Right Side? If you have, what elements do you see in it?
Coming Up On In The Spotlight
Monday, 8 January/Tuesday, 9 January – The Fortunate Brother – Donna Morrissey
Monday, 15 January/Tuesday, 16 January – Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm – Gil North
Monday, 22 January/Tuesday, 23 January – Killer Instinct – Zoë Sharp