“We’re just looking for the ghost town,” a stranger tells Justin St. Germain on the back roads of Arizona. St. Germain understands—maybe more than the stranger could appreciate. He is a haunted man. After his mother’s death, he moved from Arizona to San Francisco and rarely told new friends that she had been murdered when he was 19. He didn’t want to be defined by the tragedy. But now he can’t forget it, and Son of a Gun is his journey to make sense of it all.

The journey is also literal, as St. Germain returns to the scene of the crime. He interviews the detective, pages through old case files and reconnects with his mother’s former boyfriends. There’s something about the memoir that’s reminiscent of a dog sniffing around a backyard, determined and focused, following pure animal instinct to dig things up. Ultimately St. Germain’s journey is as much about himself as it is about his mother. It is about understanding how he arrived at his “new and clean” life in California after leaving behind such wreckage—not just the murder, but also emotional wreckage, domestic violence and poverty.

The book’s construction is pure elegance. By weaving the history of Wyatt Earp with his own story, St. Germain suggests meaningful parallels between the town of Tombstone and himself. Tombstone is defined by 30 seconds of violence that happened more than 100 years ago. St. Germain, too, is struggling against the inevitability of the past defining his present. As all of this unfolds, St. Germain manages to make the book feel like an old Western, a burlesque of violence strangely appropriate for his tale. By page 15 I knew I was in the hands of a master storyteller. Emotionally raw and beautifully written, Son of a Gun is a book you won’t soon forget.

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