Let Me Die In His Footsteps, published in 2015 is the third novel by an award-winning American author, Lori Roy. This novel is a blend of richly detailed mystery, coming-of-age, and highly suspenseful Gothic literature filled with indelible imagery, inspired by the last lawful public hanging in the US.
It’s a story whose two main storylines are tied together by lavender. The growing of the lavender at the protagonist’s farm almost had the scent drifting from the pages of the book. Set in two time periods, the 1930s and 1950s, the book tells the story of two generations of daughters growing up in rural Kentucky. Alternating between these two time periods, the story gradually unravels a mystery about what happened in the 1930s which ultimately reveals the connections between these girls.
Family feuds being nurtured for generations is apparent throughout the book, and there’s been bad blood between the Baines and the Hollerans ever since Juna Crowley, a member of the Holleran clan, in 1936, accused one of the seven Baine brothers of rape, a capital charge. Roy narrates the execution in terrible detail, but she employs a split-focus narrative to trace the original deadly grudge back to its roots, as she is more attentive to the societal processes that lead up to it.
In captivating flashbacks to 1936, when Annie’s sad mother and renowned aunt committed misdeeds that will plague their descendants, all the secrets plaguing Annie in 1952 are eventually exposed. This Depression-era story is a sad one, written in every shade of Gothic black. But its true colors emerge in the rich textures of the narrative, and the music of the voice, as hypnotic as the scent coming off a field of lavender.
Although the plot is split into two timeframes, the story remains connected, with voices and motifs echoing each other, the past sprouting up in the present, and the present offering closure to the past. The description of how past lies may affect someone’s current life and the consequences are admirable.
Although the narrator in both parallel stories is a teenager, which is quite despicable, the protagonists are credible and have powerful narrative voices.
The most interesting part for me was the structure of the story – in both timelines, we follow almost the same cast and similar situation but with a different outcome, and this necessitates a fairly detailed reading, especially when the story refers to protagonists with different names… which, at first, may cause some confusion, but remember – this is part of the reading experience where things aren’t handed to you on a silver platter, but you must make an effort to figure out the who, what, and how on your own.
Roy is a fantastic storyteller who takes her characters on journeys into the unknown. She’s a tough writer. She doesn’t spare her characters and writes without sympathy – but I feel that gives the reader more freedom to decide how they personally feel about the characters.
The novel is impressive nonetheless, carefully crafted with a compelling vision and well-honed prose. Scenes between sisters are rife depicting tension at large. The best thing about the book is that not even a single sentence or detail is wasted.
The ways in which Annie Holleran’s “know-how” is depicted are amazing. She “feels things that aren’t hers to feel” and “has a way of knowing how things will end before their end has come”. There were lots of points in the novel where one would feel sympathetic for Annie. The “know-how” for her is an unstructured, nonspecific sort of clairvoyance, a sharpened awareness that’s more country mystic than fantasy. Even though the mysteries occupy the forefront of the plot, the novel’s true strength lies in its depiction of relationships between family and neighbors, and the secrets kept and passed on through generations.
Many people will like this book. It is written beautifully and the story has a melancholic dark quality that readers will surely appreciate.