Julie Carrick Dalton’s Waiting for the Night Song is a wonderful little thriller focusing on change, fear, and how a small negative experiences can quickly snowball into simething for beyond what might be expected. This is also Dalton’s first novel making it something of a potential in him through for readers to keep track of.
The lead is one Cadie Kessler, a nature researcher. At the start of the book she is trying to turn in research acquired by illegally heading into public lands in an effort to discover if a certain type of tree killing beetle is there. This will weave the reader into the makings of a sort of ecological thriller, when Cadie gets a message from her old friend Daniela, a girl from her hometown that was easily her closest friend throughout childhood. The message is simple, stating that they have found a body.
It is an excellent opening to a very good book, one that leaves the existing elements in play, while also introducing the parts of the story taking place in the relative past. It also allows the mystery to play out in a more emotionally satisfying way, having the details which were known in the past to the girls, and seeing them interplay with the present-day version of the hometown and current complications and political issues.
The marked hatred and ignorance that Latinx people face, particularly that dealt with during the trump administration, plays a key role in the story. Daniela, her parents, and even her daughter find themselves treated as Outsiders from a community in which they have lived for decades. Hateful comments, racist graffiti, and outright racial riots come into play in a relatively small town. It is a detailed and thoughtful look at the problem, noting that it comes to a head because of ignorance, loss, fear, economic anxiety, and encouragement from high up political figures.
Environmental catastrophes, both potential and actual, play into this. The township itself is under the potential threat of forest fire even as personal and social issues flare repeatedly. The problem of climate change is adressed more than once, somewhat in parallel to the other issues in the story, and thoughtful answers are repeatedly given.
The problem of how a person is defined, and how our own perception of an individual can be defined by a small snapshot of them, is also key to this book. In light of the racial and environmental themes, this seems exceptionally appropriate. The fact that first impressions cause Cadie to see certain people certain ways is key to the story, however her discovering new details about these individuals, and in the process unraveling the full story of the body she is called back to her hometown over, is wonderful to read.
Many other memorable characters exist beyond Cadie, including her friend Daniela, her fierce more than slightly activist daughter Sal, Daniela’s strong and thoughtful parents, a scared young man turned local cop named Garrett, and more. Each is forced to make certain discoveries about their past, and the reader gets to see them come to terms with certain elements of the sTory, or fail to do so. More minor characters certainly appear, and each serve them place in the story well.
Overall, Waiting for the Night Song is easy to recommend for anyone who enjoys character base stories, or a good mystery that comes in a form other than the traditional whodunit. Julie Carrick Dalton has produced an impressive debut, and readers should look forward to more.