In Montana and Dakota, we learned bits and pieces of Lola Wicks’ experiences as a reporter in Afghanistan.
In the new mystery, Disgraced, the war moves from back burner to front in a crackling story about oppression, secrets and dredging up memories that are painful to confront. And Wicks’ familiarity with the war zone comes neatly into play.
The setting this time is windblown Wyoming. Wicks isn’t supposed to be working—her small hometown newspaper has put her on a money-saving, three-week furlough. The mandatory kind. She’s got her five-year-old daughter Maggie in tow. And a dog. She is supposed to be on a break. She is also taking some time to ponder the idea of marrying Maggie’s father Charlie, a.k.a. Sheriff Charles Laurendeau, the part-American Indian who is back home in Magpie, Montana.
As we learned in Montana and Dakota, Wicks’ reporter hat is a permanent fixture. She has an eye—and an ear—for details. She is familiar with the treatment of the powerless and she knows a victim when she sees one.
And Wicks has her own experiences in Afghanistan to process as she’s drawn into wondering why a returning soldier commits suicide upon arrival at the Casper airport. Wicks is there to pick up a friend’s cousin, a sullen woman named Palomino Jones. “Pal” is returning on the same military flight. Pal’s odd reaction to the airport chaos and her anti-social demeanor beckon Wicks to keep asking questions, the thing she does best. Soon, she’s in the middle of a group of locals who had all grown up in the town of Thirty and all gone off to war together. Four had come home. One had been killed in country and one died, at his own hand, within earshot of Wicks.
Like the fog of war itself, what happened “over there” among this group is tough to discern, but Wicks knows she’s onto something. “Stories about such situations were complicated, tangled affairs, the best of them reflecting larger truths about individuals in particular and humanity in general.”
Even on furlough, Wicks recognizes a good piece of journalistic steak, far meatier than her “usual diet of the hamburger that comprised police briefs and weather reports.”
Sorting through rich layers of social, racial and sexual tensions, Wicks dives deep into the small town fray, knowing full well she’s drawing unwanted attention and putting herself—and Maggie—in jeopardy.
Disgraced adds depth and dimension to Wicks’ character. The choices she confronts, the lies she deciphers, and her relentless pursuit of a story give Disgraced a satisfying weight. The story echoes the real-life Bowe Bergdahl case of desertion, Sebastian Junger’s non-fiction account War, Helen Thorpe’s non-fiction account Soldier Girls, and Missoula, Jon Krakauer’s non-fiction account of campus rape at the University of Montana (a book that drew heavily from Florio’s own real-life reporting for The Missoulian).
Whenever Wicks senses that “hard knot of uncertainty,” we know she’ll be grabbing her notebook and will start asking questions, whether she’s on duty or not. Disgraced is the best of Florio’s fiction to date.
Excellent review as always, Mark. I’ve put Dakota, Montana, and Disgraced on my TBR list.
Thank you, Pat !