Book Reviews for WHEN THEY WERE YOUNG
Starred review by Publishers Weekly – https://www.publishersweekly.com/9780983589488
A well-crafted plot and flesh-and-blood characters lift Horn’s superior third Sam Dawson mystery (after 2015’s When Good Men Die). Sam, a gifted photographer whose images all tell a clear story with “a beginning, a middle, and an end,” has had the ill luck to repeatedly make grim discoveries. He makes another one while walking his dog in Wyoming’s Medicine Bow National Forest—the frozen corpse of a 12-year-old girl. The coroner’s initial verdict is that the child, identified as Lilly Darnell, who went missing in Colorado months earlier, died of exposure, but further testing reveals the presence of ketamine, a date-rape drug. The prospect that she was abused becomes more likely after Lilly’s image appears among the photographs of naked children found in the possession of Oscar Roberts, who has harassed Annie George, Sam’s publisher and former significant other. The investigation into Lilly’s fate builds toward a powerful, unexpectedly moving conclusion. Fans of regional whodunits will be rewarded. (BookLife)
D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, The Midwest Book Review
When They Were Young is the third Sam Dawson mystery in a series, but prior familiarity with its award-winning predecessors is not required in order to enjoy this vivid, stand-alone saga revolving around a photographer who is simultaneously trying to solve the mystery of a child’s murder while juggling his complicated personal and professional relationship with girlfriend Annie.
Wyoming and Nebraska form the backdrops for this story, which opens with the grim discovery of a child’s body, frozen in the wilderness, and moves back and forth from investigator Sam’s experiences and perspectives to those of Annie, who has rented a broken-down ranch house in the Wyoming wilderness against his advice, and who is the editor and new owner of a small publishing house.
The long, sometimes-stormy road of their personal and professional relationship is nicely summarized in the beginning, setting the stage for events to come: “Above all, Annie believed in Sam’s artistry. His photographs were more than pictures. They spoke volumes to the viewer – each image a story with a beginning, middle, and end. But something besides his visual images caused a light feeling deep within her and a shortness of breath. She had made the mistake of a lifetime when she pushed him away eight years before. What had seemed insurmountable at the time, she now viewed as insignificant, considering all they had been through. She thought it funny how time and experience can change one’s perspective.”
It should be noted that readers expecting a ‘whodunnit’ mystery may receive more then they bargained for in a read which not only considers a murderer and a changing relationship, but the paths of investigation and introspection which make for real change and create transition points from otherwise-stuck characters.
Events that affect these choices are bigger than either Sam or Annie’s perspectives, which are well detailed here as a preface to exciting changes in their lives, and Steven W. Horn takes the time to craft these points and build logical emotional and event-driven stepping stones between them, leaving no reader behind.
Having the dual viewpoints of the two main characters creates interesting interplays of psychological inspection that are succinct and revealing throughout: “She tried not to think about the embarrassing confrontation at the coffee shop. She was angry with herself for hurting Sam again. The fact that he was visibly upset spoke volumes about his feelings for her. Yet he refused to act on those feelings. Lately he seemed withdrawn and edgy, always cynical. She could not determine if his disappointment and frustration were with his or her career. Perhaps neither, she reasoned.”
Can a child’s murder and the investigative efforts that evolve from the case create new options for Sam and Annie’s stalled relationship? While this story is intended for high school readers and above, it’s the new adult and adult mystery reader with more than a light affection for psychological depth who will find When They Were Young a powerfully done story that is as compelling for its relationship struggles as it is for the mystery that sends Sam on the most challenging quest of his life, which threatens to change everything.
With exquisite tension and attention to detail, When They Were Young is very highly recommended both as a stand-alone psychological mystery and as a continuation of Sam’s life and challenges as he fields a stormy road to an ultimate, impossible choice.