Pilot Airie may be losing his mind. Twenty years ago, Pilot's sister, Fiona, disappeared without a trace. Nothing has been the same since. The disappearance caused his family to unravel; his father left, his brother grew distant, and his mother now sees ghosts. Pilot has now taken it upon himself to pull it all together again, assuming that he doesn't unravel first.

Raveling is a genuinely gripping and eloquent debut novel by Peter Moore Smith. This novel has the basic structure of a mystery an unsolved disappearance, puzzled and puzzling characters, suspicions on all sides but it is more a psychological exploration than a straight mystery. Smith doesn't focus on the details of the disappearance. This is not a book with detailed passages on forensics or lab reports. His focus is on the characters and their interactions.

The story begins as Pilot returns home from California, where his brother found him living on a beach. Because his mother's vision is failing, Pilot has agreed to live at home to help her. All is going well until he begins to hear voices: the electricity in light bulbs talks to him, the woods behind the house beckon to him.

Eventually Pilot is hospitalized. There, his counselor Katherine takes an interest in his case. As she probes deeper into his past, trying to find a trigger for his psychotic episode, she becomes fascinated with the stories of his lost sister. What could have caused her disappearance? Who could have taken her without leaving a single trace? As she digs deeper into Pilot's memories, things really start to get interesting.

Raveling is an unusual mystery. It starts slowly, as if the reader has stepped into a story already in progress. But the deeper into the book readers get, the deeper the mystery becomes, and the greater the urge to read on. Unlike many mysteries, in which the unfolding of the story provides a greater understanding, Raveling offers little in the way of clues. This is primarily due to the fact that the protagonist, Pilot, may not be entirely sane.

Yet Pilot's struggle with his sanity is one of the most intriguing and appealing aspects of the book. The entire story is told from his point of view, that of a medicated schizophrenic. If he himself cannot be certain of the facts, cannot be sure of his own perceptions, how can the reader? There are times when the reader must ponder the question, Is this a clue or a delusion? This uncertainty adds immensely to the pleasure of reading this book. Smith's descriptions of Pilot's deluded worldview are beautifully written and captivating, providing insight into his state of mind.

If you enjoy a literary mystery, or enjoy discovering a talented new writer, Raveling is the book for you.

Wes Breazeale is a writer in the Pacific Northwest.

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