Small town America gets handed a mirror and a chance to have a good long hard look at itself in Danielle Devor’s crime teen thriller Dancing with a Dead Horse.
Teenager Jason Miller gets blamed for the murder of a fellow student when he discovers a body in the toilets at his high school. Things then turn sinister when he finds a doll horse made from the victim’s skin and hair in his locker.
From there the story focuses on Jason’s attempts to carry on with life as normally as possible while his family try to clear his name. Yet more students start to end up dead; those he knows well and classmates he has only ever spoken to a handful of times. Fear begins to set into the small town before eventually giving away to hysteria.
Dancing with a Dead Horse is a slow story that gradually builds to a thrilling climax. I do not usually go for slow burners but the pacing of the story is brilliant, giving enough to the reader to keep them interested while not showing too much of its hand in one go.
On a wider social level the story draws attention to the darker side of small town life. Small towns and villages where everyone knows their neighbour can be great places to live. There tends to be a community spirit that cities lack. On the flip side, however, rumours, finger-pointing and paranoia run rife when something out of the ordinary happens in many such places. The theme is well explored and leaves an impression.
The characters, especially Jason, are complex and believable. I found the reactions of Jason and his family to different situations - some of which were very difficult for them to handle - realistic.
It gets 8/10.