For a woman who cannot be herself, Anna Winger is certainly skilled at knowing about other people from the barest of evidence – all it takes is their handwriting.
This simple fact only scratches the surface of the complex lead character in Lori Rader-Day’s absorbing third stand-alone novel, The Day I Died. More of a deep character study posing as a plot-driven narrative, this novel manages to elicit compulsive reading via tension-filled moments juxtaposed beside scenes of intense introspection.
As the book opens, Anna Winger is asked to use her skills at handwriting analysis to extract information from a ransom note found at a murder site. This consultation leads to her becoming more deeply involved in the investigation into this suspected familial abduction.
Meanwhile, Anna is dealing with her own parenting problems at home. Their transitory lifestyle – and the fact that he is now thirteen-years-old – has led to conflict in her relationship with her son, Joshua. By struggling to maintain control, Anna has mostly succeeded in distancing herself from the one person she loves unconditionally. And then Joshua vanishes.
Therein lies the heart of The Day I Died. What would we do to protect the ones we love? And does shielding them from societies ills create more trouble than honesty would have? Lori Rader-Day understands the parent/child dynamic and uses it to full effect in this novel. Just as Joshua doesn’t understand his family history, the reader also finds out additional tidbits of Anna’s past as each chapter renders her life more exposed.
Through it all, readers understand that Anna is doing the best that she can in a difficult situation. Unfortunately, there is no manual for this type of lifestyle – for any type of life really. We are all guilty of making judgments about others based on something – how they look, how they act, their lineage, or possibly, their handwriting. Sometimes we are right, but making an informed opinion is often more difficult than it appears.
As Lori Rader-Day details the cases of these two missing boys, readers come to understand that the emotional lives of people are more complex than can be imagined: everyday, humans deal with heavy topics like fear, regret, guilt, and shame while also struggling to find happiness, hope, trust, and love. Life is a precarious balancing act and even the most minor shift can have a seismic effect.
It is clear from the beginning of The Day I Died that any resolution for Anna Winger is ultimately destined to end where her story began – at Sweetheart Lake. It’s a credit to Lori Rader-Day’s plotting that she can convincingly wrap up all the various plotlines in this one location. What could have seemed convenient and unrealistic instead plays out as inevitable in the reader’s mind.
Going into The Day I Died, Lori Rader-Day’s fans are going to have lofty expectations after the success of both Little Pretty Things and The Black Hour. The good news is that with The Day I Died, she manages to meet those prospects and in some critical elements even exceeds them. This is easily one of the highlights of the year in reading, so far.
From the Booking Desk:
Hopefully, that review has you anticipating this excellent novel. Since you know you are going to buy it anyway, why not pre-order the title and enter Lori Rader-Day’s contest for doing so. Details can be found here. The deadline is March 31 2017, so don’t delay.
Disclaimer: A print ARC of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.