Wyatt Rivers was the boy who lived. The sole survivor of a deadly robbery at the Oklahoma City movie theater where he worked as a teenager, Wyatt faced the loss of his co-workers, his friends—and was left with the question, why? Why did he live while the others died?
Now a Las Vegas-based private eye in his 40s, Wyatt has done his best to put his past behind him, changing his name and staying far from his hometown. Then a case he’s promised to investigate for one of his best clients sends him back to O.C., and he has to face his past.
Meanwhile, Julianna was 12 when her glamorous older sister disappeared without a trace from the Oklahoma State Fair. The separate incidents, hers and Wyatt’s, happened around the same time, and marked them forever. Now a nurse still living in Oklahoma City, Julianna is obsessed with figuring out what happened to her sister.
Their stories are told in alternating sections of the book, with a little more space being given to Wyatt since he has two crimes to solve (the reason for the long-ago theater shooting, and his client’s issue). As is often the case with books with multiple threads, I found myself preferring certain parts—anytime the point of view switched to Julianna, I found myself anxious to get back to Wyatt, because while both characters are trainwrecks, Wyatt’s a more interesting trainwreck. Plus, Julianna does some unbearably stupid things in the name of solving her decades-long cold case.
One of the best things about The Long and Faraway Gone is its Oklahoma City setting. The 1995 bombing of the Murrah building took place long after the crimes Wyatt and Julianna are investigating, but the incident seems to loom over the city, adding an extra layer of melancholy; it’s pointed out that the city is “a small town at heart, and everyone knew someone who had been killed or maimed in the blast or someone who’d descended into hell to help with the rescue.”
In a moving scene, Wyatt visits the Oklahoma City National Memorial, where “there was now an open lawn, filled with row after row of empty chairs. One hundred and sixty-eight chairs, one for each person killed in the blast. Nineteen of the chairs were sized for children. The empty chairs were powerful in a way Wyatt had not expected. They captured something essential about the dead—how they could be so far away and yet at the same time right here, right now, right next to you, close enough that you could still hear them breathing.”
I almost wish the two cold cases had not been tied up so neatly, because it seemed unrealistic to me, but I suppose the genre demands resolution (the one time my book group read a mystery that left one of its central cases unresolved, people went bananas). All in all, The Long and Faraway Gone is a beautifully-written book, full of well-developed characters (even the bit players, from a tattooed bartender to a kilt-clad rock star, are memorable) with a great sense of place.