"Mr. Charles LeBlanc, and his companion, Ms. Mildred Spurlock, will be visiting friends and relatives in Cliffside during the coming weeks. During their visit, the couple will be staying with a family friend, Benjamin Henshaw." In award-winning author William Hoffman's new novel, this notice never actually appears in the social events column because the newspaper in tiny Cliffside, West Virginia, folded years ago when the coal ran out. Locals could tell you, however, that Charley LeBlanc is a convicted felon who received a bad conduct discharge after the Vietnam War. They could also point out that his girlfriend, Blackie Spurlock, just served seven years in prison for killing her husband.

Charley and Blackie were camping on Montana's high plains when homesickness drew them back to what remains of Cliffside. Charley, the black sheep of a prominent Tidewater family, wants to visit Jessie Arbuckle, an elderly spinster he once befriended. On his return, he learns that Jessie has been murdered and that Esmeralda, a mysterious older woman, is the leading suspect.

He is determined to find the true motive behind the killing and uncover what brought Esmeralda to the scene of the crime. Charley, who appeared in Hoffman's previous thriller Tidewater Blood, shows the same self-destructive tendency that has plagued him in the past; relationships with his brother and Blackie may be the price for nailing the killer.

Sheriff Basil Lester bars Charley from the crime scene and bears down on anyone who speaks with him. Still, Charley's search uncovers enough suspects to suggest a conspiracy that reaches the highest levels of Cliffside's society. With its stunning ending and sobering lessons for Charley, Wild Thorn is representative of the well-crafted suspense that has earned accolades and faithful readers for Hoffman during his long career.

John Messer writes from Ludington, Michigan.


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