Join BookBrowse today and get access to free books, our twice monthly digital magazine, and more.

Reviews of The Distant Dead by Heather Young

The Distant Dead

by Heather Young

The Distant Dead by Heather Young X
The Distant Dead by Heather Young
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jun 2020, 352 pages

    Paperback:
    Aug 2021, 352 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

A young boy finds himself at the center of a murder mystery in this timely and twisty thriller from the author of the acclaimed The Lost Girls - a compelling and indelible story set in small town America that examines the burden of guilt, the bitter price of forgiveness, and the debts we owe our dead, both recent and distant.

A body burns in the high desert hills. A boy walks into a fire station, pale with the shock of a grisly discovery. A middle school teacher worries when her colleague is late for work. By day's end, when the body is identified as local math teacher Adam Merkel, a small Nevada town will be rocked to its core by a brutal and calculated murder.

Adam Merkel left a university professorship in Reno to teach middle school in Lovelock seven months before he died. A quiet, seemingly unremarkable man, he connected with just one of his students: Sal Prentiss, a lonely sixth grader who lives with his uncles on a desolate ranch in the hills. The two outcasts developed a tender, trusting friendship that brought each of them hope in the wake of tragedy. But it is Sal who finds Adam's body, charred almost beyond recognition, half a mile from his uncles' compound.

Nora Wheaton, the middle school's social studies teacher, dreamed of a life far from Lovelock only to be dragged back on the eve of her college graduation to care for her disabled father, a man she loves but can't forgive. She sensed in the new math teacher a kindred spirit--another soul bound to Lovelock by guilt and duty. After Adam's death, she delves into his past for clues to who killed him and finds a dark history she understands all too well. But the truth about his murder may lie closer to home. For Sal Prentiss's grief seems heavily shaded with fear, and Nora suspects he knows more than he's telling about how his favorite teacher died. As she tries to earn the wary boy's trust, she finds he holds not only the key to Adam's murder, but an unexpected chance at the life she thought she'd lost.

Weaving together the last months of Adam's life, Nora's search for answers, and a young boy's anguished moral reckoning, this unforgettable thriller brings a small American town to vivid life, filled with complex, flawed characters wrestling with the weight of the past, the promise of the future, and the bitter freedom that forgiveness can bring.

Excerpt
THE DISTANT DEAD

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 ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

In chapters narrated primarily from the points of view of Sal (starting from the first day of school and leading up to Adam's death in March) and Nora (starting with the discovery of the murder and leading up to the solving of the crime), Young effectively draws out the complexities of each character's life. The stories of love and loss—mostly centered on issues of addiction and substance abuse—that Young recounts in her novel are, perhaps, indicative of countless other stories that go untold or overlooked every day...continued

Full Review (557 words)

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.

(Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

Media Reviews

BookPage (starred review)
A story that begins with a horrific discovery and expands to explore the weight of familial obligation, the far-reaching devastation of drug addiction and the ways in which guilt and boredom can curdle into something much more sinister...[Young's] language is poetic, and her contemplation of the corrosiveness of suppressed emotion is both sympathetic and impatient: When will people learn?

New York Times
This book may not be packed with high-octane thrills, but it’s honestly engaging, with its appreciation for the stark beauty of a high desert landscape and its gentle treatment of underage outcasts like Absalom (Sal) Prentiss, whose discovery of chess brings joy into his life.

People
Powerful and poignant.

Booklist (starred review)
Stunning...An ideal recommendation for fans of Kate Atkinson.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[The Distant Dead] is at heart about the timelessness of human curiosity, the eternal possibility of forgiveness, and the everyday miracle of survival. Electrifying, ambitious, and crushingly beautiful.

Publishers Weekly
[M]oving...Never mind a tad too much symmetry in some of the backstories. This emotionally resonant saga, firmly rooted in the high desert hills, will keep readers turning the pages.

Author Blurb James McLaughlin, author of Bearskin
With her usual blend of inventive storytelling and gorgeous prose, Heather Young delivers big themes and a poignant coming-of-age story in this complex, page-turning mystery/thriller. Resonant and relevant, The Distant Dead kept me reading late at night, and the characters followed me around during the day, especially a precocious and unusual sixth-grade boy named Absalom who is hard to forget. As a fan of Young's debut, The Lost Girls, I found myself swept into another beautifully-crafted story that's even more suspenseful, at times more terrifying, and ultimately just as surprising. The Distant Dead is not to be missed.

Author Blurb Rene Denfeld, bestselling author of The Child Finder and The Butterfly Girl
Bright, flawless writing, wonderful characters, and a sense of pacing that ratchets up the tension—what more could you want from a thriller? I loved this book. I bet you will too.

Reader Reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

The Oldest Known Burial in North America: Anzick-1

Anzick child burial location in Montana The evocative prehistorical scene with which Heather Young opens The Distant Dead might be fictional but, as the narrator suggests near the end of the novel, it parallels some real-life archaeological discoveries. One of these is Anzick Boy, or Anzick-1, a Paleoindian child of one or two years old, found buried in Montana in 1968. This specimen is the earliest known burial in North America. The child was buried with more than one hundred stone and bone tools.

Interestingly, the Anzick specimen was named for the family whose land he was found on, and Sarah Anzick (who was two years old at the time of the discovery) grew up to become a genome researcher and one of the scientists who helped sequence Anzick-1's nuclear genome (the set of...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Read-Alikes

Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Distant Dead, try these:

  • Lightning Strike jacket

    Lightning Strike

    by William Kent Krueger

    Published 2022

    About this book

    More by this author

    The author of the instant New York Times bestseller This Tender Land returns with a powerful prequel to his acclaimed Cork O'Connor series - a book about fathers and sons, long-simmering conflicts in a small Minnesota town, and the events that echo through youth and shape our lives forever.

  • Best Laid Plans jacket

    Best Laid Plans

    by Gwen Florio

    Published 2021

    About this book

    More by this author

    In the first of a new mystery series, we meet Nora Best as she flees her old life, cheating husband and all, and takes to the road with an Airstream trailer.

We have 6 read-alikes for The Distant Dead, but non-members are limited to two results. To see the complete list of this book's read-alikes, you need to be a member.
Search read-alikes
How we choose read-alikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Join our inner reading circle, go ad-free and get way more!

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Swans of Harlem
    The Swans of Harlem
    by Karen Valby
    Journalist Karen Valby's first book, The Swans of Harlem, introduces readers to the little-known ...
  • Book Jacket: The Sicilian Inheritance
    The Sicilian Inheritance
    by Jo Piazza
    Sara Marsala is going through a rough patch, to say the least. In the process of divorcing from her ...
  • Book Jacket: The Light Eaters
    The Light Eaters
    by Zoë Schlanger
    The human race is completely dependent on plants. Many people, however, give little thought to ...
  • Book Jacket: Joy Is the Justice We Give Ourselves
    Joy Is the Justice We Give Ourselves
    by J Drew Lanham
    As a recipient of the MacArthur "Genius" Grant, and a Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Master ...

BookBrowse Book Club

Book Jacket
Romantic Comedy
by Curtis Sittenfeld
A comedy writer's stance on love shifts when a pop star challenges her assumptions in this witty and touching novel.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    This Strange Eventful History
    by Claire Messud

    An immersive, masterful story of a family born on the wrong side of history.

  • Book Jacket

    The Stolen Child
    by Ann Hood

    An unlikely duo ventures through France and Italy to solve the mystery of a child’s fate.

Win This Book
Win Only the Brave

Only the Brave by Danielle Steel

A powerful, sweeping historical novel about a courageous woman in World War II Germany.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

F T a T

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.