In 1983, 3 bodies were discovered in barrels by two hikers in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest. Having been there a while, the police were never able to identify who the women and 2 children were. Almost 30 years after their discovery, two women from across the country, with two very different lives and for very different reasons commit to identifying who the victim were. Laura MacDonald, a retired librarian with a passion for finding people’s lost loves ones, is determined to put a name to the victims so that they won’t be forgotten. Detective Jean Martinez, sees this cold case as the crux of her waning career and wants nothing more than to determine the culprit of the grisly crime. Half a decade after the crimes were committed, the unlikely pair might just be able to determine the truth behind the murders.
Told from 3 perspectives this book was lovingly written. The writing is fantastic and the idea behind the story is great. Both Laura and Detective Martinez get their chance to tell their stories. While both women are completely different, they both bring a unique take on the case, and I really enjoyed the contrast between them. However, I felt that Laura’s storyline was much more flushed out and engaging. Martinez’s character seems a little flat to me and I felt that I never really got to know her.
The 3rd POV was from the ghost of one of the victims, and while I didn’t not like the narrative, it really pulls the genre of the story into speculative fiction territory, which I struggled with. In the first half of the book, when it came to the 3rd POV, I felt slightly lost. The direction didn’t seem defined until halfway through, and so it took me half the book to understand the point of the narrative. Once I was onboard though, I did enjoy getting hear how Jane Doe perceived her death and situation. It wasn’t my favorite storyline though, so I could have also done without it.
I appreciated the Breast Cancer Survivor story and the way Herchenroether dived into Laura’s story. Her story was fascinating, and I loved the tenacity she shows not just during her Cancer journey, but just in her eagerness to find peoples lost loved ones. I think it was a great example of how sites like Ancestory.com, 23 and Me, and others are working to connect people to their roots. It’s fascinating to understand where you come from, and my dad has always been big into exploring our family tree, which has rubbed off on me as well. Personally, I found Laura’s story to be the most engaging, impactful, and interesting.
Personally, I felt that there were two distinct halves of the book. The first half dives deep into the personal lives of Martinez and Laura, with hardly any reference to the murders. Around halfway through though, it completely switches, and we get little to no more detail around their personal lives, and the focus is solely on the investigation. There was a lot of personal build up for both women, without much payoff, in my opinion. Both Martinez’s storyline and the 3rd POV of Jane Doe were just not fully engaging for me, and I felt they slowed the pacing of the story quite a bit. So, while the writing was wonderful, I felt as if I was slogging through the book at times. I would have ultimately preferred to just have the entire book written from Laura’s POV.
My last complaint involves the investigation itself. I honestly could not keep track of the suspects and families in the investigation. There were some name changes, some history around naming conventions of different cultures, but ultimately there were just too many people that were brought into the conversations. I couldn’t keep track of them all. I thought more than once that a family tree graphic would have been helpful.
There are so many great things about this book, and I hate to only give it 3 stars. While I really enjoyed a lot of parts about the story, the negatives outweighed the pros for me, which is why this was a 3.5 star read, rounded down to 3. The 3rd narrative really contributes to a more atmospheric feel, so I’d recommend reading if you enjoy more atmospheric or gothic type mysteries.
https://amzn.to/41pZAGUThe Night Flowers comes out May 2, 2023. Huge thank you to Tin House Books for my advanced copy in exchange for my honest opinion. If you liked this review please let me know either by commenting below or by visiting my instagram @speakingof.books.
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