34 of 41 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
1970: On a rain-swept highway outside Prentiss, Mississippi, 15-year-old Polly Deschamps reaches a crossroads that will change her miserable life. She abandons her mother's car on the side of the highway, trusting the police to find and return it, recounts the $11 she stole from her mother's drunken boyfriend, steps onto the shoulder of the highway, and sticks out her thumb. Will it be Jackson or New Orleans? The trucker who pulls over tells her he's headed for Bourbon Street, which is "no place for a young white girl," so he lets her out in Jackson Square. The tarot card reader is the only woman, except for the hookers, who is visible in the darkened park, so she seats herself at the gypsy's table, and Polly's fate is sealed.
Fifteen hundred miles away, a young boy named Dylan has just been sentenced to the psychiatric facility in a juvenile detention center in Du Walt, Minnesota for taking an axe to his parents, his baby sister and the family cat. Only his brother, Richard, survived the bloodbath, and Dylan, dubbed "Butcher Boy" by the title-hungry media, sets foot on his own journey to an uncertain future as his fate is sealed as well.
Now cut to 2007: Dr. Polly Deschamps, ever hungry for knowledge and eager to lift herself out of the squalid poverty of her childhood, has worked hard, earned her way through high school and university, and is now a tenured and respected English professor at a local New Orleans college. Recently divorced with two young daughters, her social life is restricted to fellow educators until she meets Marshall Marchand, a dashing, successful architect whose company has landed a major contract to help reconstruct New Orleans following the Katrina disaster.
When Marshall and Polly first meet in Jackson Square, still her favorite haunt, he is smitten for the first time in his life. He has spent his adult years working at what he loves --- designing buildings and collecting art --- but he had not allowed himself time for a serious relationship. He and his brother, Danny, a successful owner of a chain of boutique drugstores, live in a condominium in the craftsman neighborhood of New Orleans, and the successful bachelors lead a genteel and quiet but stylish social life. Polly's appearance in Marshall's life is as alarming to Danny as it is alluring to Marshall, and Danny cautions his brother to take it slowly. Their romance leads the two lonely people on a path of horrifying discoveries that set the stage for a thriller of Shirley Jackson proportions.
Nevada Barr, who has 10 bestselling mysteries under her belt, may be familiar to readers as the creator of U.S. National Park Ranger Anna Pigeon, solver of murders in exotic wilderness settings. No stranger to building suspense and creating page-turning chase scenes with spine-chilling climaxes, Barr has broken out of the series mold with this new cast of characters. Additionally, 13 ½ goes much further as a psychological thriller than Anna Pigeon novels, as Barr delves deeply into the psyche of the young murderer through his psychiatrist, his own attempts to reconcile his crime of which he has no memory, and his surviving and overly protective brother. The killer's adult persona has grown even more devious as he matures, and Polly and her young family find themselves drawn into a deadly web of terror and deceit.
Barr diabolically pulls the reader along through enigmatic journal entries made up of personal comments about major multiple murders from years past: from serial killer Charles Starkweather, to Susan Smith and Andrea Yates (who both kill their own children), and Scott Peterson (who cold-bloodedly kills his pregnant wife). Who has written these notes and why?
Are you ready for a good, chilling read? Ready to pull the shades, turn on the lights and stay up all night? Nevada Barr is right up there with Dean Koontz, Stephen King and Thomas Harris. If you can put this book down before you've finished the last few chapters, you possess nerves of steel. Will Barr be ready to return to her Anna Pigeon series, or are there more psychological thrillers in that devious mind still waiting to be written? Either way, we're all eagerly anticipating her next book.
--- Reviewed by Roz Shea