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Excerpt from The Distant Dead by Heather Young, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Distant Dead

by Heather Young

The Distant Dead by Heather Young X
The Distant Dead by Heather Young
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2020, 352 pages

    Aug 2021, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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Print Excerpt


To get to Marzen from Lovelock, you took Interstate 80 thirteen miles east to the Lovelock-Unionville Road. Then you drove south through three miles of sage and sand, climbed into the foothills of the Humboldt Range, and took a nameless dirt road that forked to the right halfway up Limerick Canyon. This road rose through more hills furred with sagebrush until it ended in a small, square valley where a few dozen buildings huddled together. Only when you were upon them would you see that they sketched a town: a smattering of houses and trailers, a general store and a bar, a small school, a fire station, and a church the size and shape of three shipping containers welded together with MARZEN BAPTIST painted in red letters on one side.

Two hundred and seven people lived there. Eighty-four men, seventy-six women, and forty-seven children. Most of the men, and some of the women, worked at the open pit silver mine farther up in the hills. Their fathers had been miners, too, and their grandfathers, but they knew the ore would be gone long before their children could punch the clock. They didn't talk about this, though. In Marzen, you took your problems one day at a time.

The town had no police force – its citizens managed the occasional drunken fight just fine on their own -- so the fire station was where you had to go if you wanted to report a dead body. Jake Sanchez was the volunteer on duty the morning of March 14, which for him meant watching The Price is Right on the black and white television with his feet on the desk. He didn't notice the boy in the doorway until the boy said, "Jake?"

Jake put his booted feet on the floor and turned the swivel chair to face him. He knew him, of course. His name was Absalom, though no one called him that, not even his mother. One night, after last call at the bar she ran, she'd told Jake she picked it because she sang in the Baptist church's small choir and loved the anthem "When David Heard." O Absalom, my son, my son, it went. Would God I had died for thee! Her own son had no father to weep for him, so she'd decided to name him after King David's favorite son, whose father beat his breast upon the walls of Jerusalem when he heard Absalom had fallen in battle. Of course she'd known her boy couldn't really be Absalom, not in a town like Marzen, so she called him Sal. She'd died nine months ago, and sometimes Jake wondered if he was the only one left, other than Sal and the uncles he'd been sent to live with, who knew her son's secret, unspoken name.

"What are you doing here, Sal? Did you miss the bus?" When Marzen kids finished fifth grade the Pershing County school district sent a bus to take them to Lovelock for middle school. Sal had started sixth grade in the fall. Jake looked at his watch. It was just after seven-thirty; the bus had left fifteen minutes ago.

Sal didn't answer right away, and Jake peered at him more closely. He hadn't liked it when Sal was sent to live with his uncles. Gideon and Ezra Prentiss lived three miles outside town on land that had belonged to their family since the Gold Rush. They were pariahs of long standing, thanks to family history, a reputation for violence, and rumored criminal enterprises that, depending on who was talking and how imaginative they were, included cattle theft, meth cooking, drug running, and money laundering for the Russian mafia. Since Sal had moved to the Prentiss place he'd grown thinner and he always looked tired, but this morning he looked even worse than usual. He was pale beneath the tawny skin that was the only clue to his father's identity and his shaggy dark bangs flopped into eyes that were sunken with exhaustion.

"I found a dead person," he said.

Jake rocked forward. "What?"

Sal's shoulders twitched, as though he thought Jake was going to grab them. "I found a dead body. Up the hill a ways."

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Excerpted from the novel The Distant Dead by Heather Young. Copyright © 2020 by Heather Young. On sale June 9 from William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.

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