Title: One of Us
Author: Tawni O’Dell
No. of Pages: 304
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Origins: Gallery Books
Release Date: 19 August 2014
Bottom Line: Dark, mysterious, and intriguing
“Dr. Sheridan Doyle—a fastidiously groomed and TV-friendly forensic psychologist—is the go-to shrink for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office whenever a twisted killer’s mind eludes other experts. But beneath his Armani pinstripes, he’s still Danny Doyle, the awkward, terrified, bullied boy from a blue-collar mining family, plagued by panic attacks and haunted by the tragic death of his little sister and mental unraveling of his mother years ago.
Returning to a hometown grappling with its own ghosts, Danny finds a dead body at the infamous Lost Creek gallows where a band of rebellious Irish miners was once executed. Strangely, the body is connected to the wealthy family responsible for the miners’ deaths. Teaming up with veteran detective Rafe, a father-like figure from his youth, Danny—in pursuit of a killer—comes dangerously close to startling truths about his family, his past, and himself.
In this masterfully told psychological thriller in the vein of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, the past and present collide to put Lost Creek’s long-lived ghosts to bed.”
Thoughts: Mental illness is at the heart of Tawni O’Dell’s newest novel. One of Us explores those who struggle with mental illness and their loved ones who suffer on their behalf. Danny Doyle, as an expert forensic psychologist, provides insight into both mindsets. In doing so, he offers readers a unique glimpse into the tricky trappings of an unhealthy mind as well as the consequences of such illnesses, unintended or otherwise, on loved ones. However, Danny is not the only narrator. While Danny is only an expert on mental illness and a direct witness to his mother’s battles, the second narrator provides readers with a first-hand look inside the mind of someone lacking in emotion and conscience. There is an obsessive compulsion to be the most intelligent, calmest, and more rational person in any given situation; anyone who stands in the way of that compulsion meets a ruthless ending. This narrator’s tale is every bit as chilling as Danny’s acceptance of serial killers, if not more so.
Mental illness is not the only theme at work in One of Us. Tragedy and loss are also themes within the thriller/drama. Danny and his grandfather must deal with tragedy and loss every day thanks to his mother’s mental illness. However, these themes go beyond the individual characters. For, every citizen of Lost Creek knows someone who was injured or killed in the mines. All of the descendants of the key players in the ill-fated rebellion remain in town, still earning a living from the mines. The still-standing gallows keep the townspeople from ever being able to forget what happened which, in turn, keeps the town divided into the haves and the have-nots, those whose ancestors participated in the rebellion and those who brought down the rebellion. For a town so rooted in loss and despair, the events that unfold within One of Us are just one more proof of the harshness of life and yet provides a fitting closure to the festering wounds of history.
The characters within One of Us are quite vibrant. There is a coldness within Danny that mirrors the second narrator’s and an obsession among several main characters with appearance and designer labels that mimics Patrick Batemen from American Psycho. This can only be deliberate on Ms. O’Dell’s part given the nature of the second narrator and what one discovers about them both. In contrast to the two narrators, the other characters are delightfully quirky. Tommy is a force of nature, hilarious and gruff but with a sweet side that appears more often than not. Rafe is equally intriguing. His checkered past only adds to his seriousness and deliberateness seen when he is working. Then there is everyone else within and around town – everything one would expect in a small town without being clichéd or too cartoonish. This eclectic cast provides some bright moments in an otherwise somber novel.
One of Us touches on everything from child abuse to the death penalty, alcoholism to gender identity, abject poverty to unimaginable wealth and privilege, and more. While breaking down such barriers as economic status, the themes of mental illness and loss also serve to heighten the discrepancies between them as far as they relate to the inhabitants of Lost Creek. While the two narrators may be cold and distant, the story has heart and compassion, which undercuts the desperation and seriousness of the dead body and mysterious happenings in Lost Creek. The story is as much psychological as it is suspenseful, and the resulting uncovered secrets are powerful in what they reveal about the characters as well as humanity. In all, One of Us is a well-written, intriguing story that draws on multiple elements of story-writing to capture a reader’s attention and human nature’s fascinating with mental illness and deception to keep it.