Review of J P Jones’ A Sense of Loss CreateSpace 2013
“Buy local” came into fashion in the past few years. It might apply to this moving and thoughtful novel by J P Jones, his third available here on Amazon. Detective Mike Cutler tells us about his search for a murderer but what stays long after we finish the story is the depth of his feeling for his hometown of Bartonsburg, West Virginia. Here is a region not really included in the trendy slogan of buying local. Rather it is one of the hundreds of local communities around the country that have experienced great loss over the past fifty years. The victim in the case is a doctor from India, relatively new to Bartonsburg. Cutler’s search leads him through the back-reaches of the mountain town he knows so well and leads him down paths of reflection on what has happened to it he never expected to explore. We meet lots of interesting and irritating people, from Peter Bremer whose wife Lisa worked for the murdered doctor, to Hiram Greer the crusty steel mill owner, to Riley Bruce the rich lawyer to Bill Atherton the rich playboy and Nelly Simpson living out her days in a home. The whole town comes to life in the telling and a cold case gets uncovered as well. Behind the troubles of the dead doctor lie a long history of troubles in Bartonsburg.
The pleaure of this superb novel, then, is how it gives us a detective story, a crime to be solved, but in terms that are far beyond the boxes we usually associate with that essential plot. Essential in the sense not of formula fiction but the human story. Murder cuts into every tie binding any town together.
*Haunting murder mystery which explores much more than the killing of a young Indian doctor new to the northern West Virginia town of Bartonsburg. When experienced detective Mike Cutler sets out to find the killer, we meet a rich set of characters who deftly portray the whole town and region, and we see not just how the murder has cut into the quick of their lives but how an unsolved cold case still holds open old wounds for everyone.
Racism, drugs, empty factories, union busting, greed, poverty and ignorance, in-bred clannishness and hunger for urban sophistication and wealth, Bartonsburg comes to life with a disturbing yet satisfying intensity.
Mike Cutler takes us into every hollow and cranny of the town he loves, ever more deeply confronting the way the murders have sliced through the community, and tries to understand what all has happened to them far beyond the murders. A whole age of promise, possibility and expectation has gone.