Reviewed by Caroline Smith
A sex addict. A host of suspects. A motel’s crescent-shaped neon sign. A sweet romance. A stray dog. A dead body. All the ingredients of a thrilling murder mystery are perfectly swirled together in Tuscaloosa Moon. However, it is the relationships winding through this novel that make it a real page-turner.
The story centers around the murder of Priscilla Beaty, a hardcore Alabama Crimson Tide fan and high school principal with an unlikeable personality and a long list of lovers. Her promiscuous lifestyle, coupled with her tendency to aggravate everyone she meets, makes it difficult for Detective Addie Bramson to narrow down the list of suspects.
The story flips between the perspective of Priscilla herself and that of her teenage son, Andrew, all the while incorporating the life stories of a variety of characters: the detective, a drug dealer, a loving mutt with a tendency to bark, the staff members of a home for troubled teens, and a seemingly endless string of boy toys. All of these characters’ storylines eventually culminate in an ending that merges them all together. The seamless way the various storylines ultimately blend together is evidence of the creative, thoughtful writing that is present throughout the course of the book.
The murder itself does not occur until almost halfway through the novel. Rather than jumping immediately into the action, the author spends time making readers familiar with the massive tangle of relationships and characters that makes the killer so difficult to pinpoint. By the time all the drama peaks, the characters and their personalities practically pop off the pages, making this whodunit even more gripping.
Throughout the story, the debate of “nature vs. nurture” becomes more and more prevalent. By delving into the background of each character, the author asks an age-old question: “What makes people the way they are?” Though Priscilla is painted as cold-hearted and selfish, the traumatic events of her past seem to offer an excuse for her behaviors. Likewise, Andrew’s anger issues and drug abuse make him appear reckless and rebellious, but his childhood was smattered with a brokenness that makes his plight sympathetic. By the end, it’s even tempting to wonder if the murderer endured some sort of suffering that led him or her to the heinous crime that makes up the core of the novel. Overall, the reader is asked to try truly understanding the reasons behind the behaviors that make the characters do what they do and act how they act. It is, on the whole, a story about seeing things through other peoples’ eyes.
Tuscaloosa Moon is the first novel in Carolyn Breckinridge’s Addie Bramson mystery series. Breckinridge’s vivid descriptions of Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama make it clear that she is a passionate Tuscaloosa native. Iconic local sites like Gorgas Library, Bryant Denny Stadium, The Quad, and above all, the Moon Winx Inn will make the setting come alive for those familiar with the town. In addition, Breckinridge manages to invoke such a clear picture that even those who have never set foot in the state of Alabama will still be drawn into the scenes she describes. The location of the novel’s events serves as both an homage and a guidebook to the hotspots of the popular Southern town.
Breckinridge’s writing harkens to Anne Carroll George’s Southern Sister’s mystery series, for which she won the Agatha Award. Tuscaloosa Moon creates similarly familiar Southern scenes with straightforward language. Breckinridge pays the same respect to local names and sights that George conjures in her writings. Though Tuscaloosa Moon, lacks the humor that floats throughout the Southern Sister’s series, it makes up for it with its thought-provoking plot points and character descriptions.
The novel also sets up an interesting relationship that points to the contents of future books in the series. Addie, the sharp female detective, and Luke, a counselor at a home for troubled youth, seem to have one of the few healthy relationships in the entire book. A taste of their romance and its intriguing background is present in Tuscaloosa Moon, but their feelings for one another almost beg to be continued in the sequels to come. Though this relationship doesn’t take the forefront of the events in this story, it is an engaging component that adds to the interest of the plot.
Tuscaloosa Moon tells an entertaining story that keeps readers guessing until the very end. The sheer number of likely suspects ensures that the reader is kept in the dark, just like the characters, until the finale of the story. In addition, though the novel offers enough closure to make the conclusion satisfactory, the book hints at exciting sequels to come. The author weaves a complex plot that not only keeps the heart beating anxiously but also successfully drives home the point that everybody has a past.