There is something cleansing about THE SUNSET WITNESS. I think it’s the prose of its author, Gayle Hayes. Except for a few breathtakingly speedy scenes where the pace is fevered and the style is clipped, the story is told in short, simple sentences, subject followed by predicate. Its style is transparent, shining. Conflict, sense of place, the emotions of Rachel, the main character, and the telling details of her life are conveyed as if by magic, almost in between the words. The story unfolds bit by bit; the mystery deepens; the tension rises.
I was hooked from the opening line. I cared what happened to Rachel and her friends and found the book hard to put down. It’s a damn good mystery, one that leaves room in the end for reader interpretation. On another level, the book is about dislocation, deception, dysfunction.
The second novel by Ms. Hayes, THE SUNSET WITNESS, concerns the disappearance of Rachel Douglas who has left behind a document chronicling the recent events of her life in Sunset, Oregon. It includes just enough of her past to breathe life into her character. All events in the story occur between May 31 and June 16, 2011, the day Rachel went missing.
At the start of the story, Rachel has quit her law practice in order to fulfill her dream of writing. She sublets the beach house of her friend, Sarah, taking over Sarah’s waitressing job. There are scenes with fellow workers, improbable friends, handsome lovers, strange-looking beachy-type characters, fearful occurrences that go bump in the night, and underworld connections.
The author uses Rachel’s choice of friends and her waitressing job to flesh out her character. The reader learns that Rachel must be on time for her job, that her appearance is important, as is her organization. Above all, the customers are important to her and her description of them I found endearing. My favorite was the middle-aged woman who
wore a long, red gingham dress with puff sleeves and a flared skirt, western boots, and a wide-brimmed straw hat. Unlike so many single diners, she did not read a book while she ate. She did not even seem to notice the ocean. When I looked her way, her eyes would be closed as she held each morsel in her mouth, chewed slowly, and swallowed. Watching her eat was like watching someone pray before a shrine.
Before the story ends, events take a more sinister turn, behavior become macabre, and part of the story’s resolution is left to the reader’s imagination. In short, THE SUNSET WITNESS is a gem of a story, a gripping mystery not to be missed, and I highly recommend it. On the strength of the book, I purchased the author’s earlier work.
My Rating: 5 Stars
About the Author: Gayle (Evankovich) Hayes was bitten by the writing bug while a student at Sacred Heart Grade School when she won the American Legion award for her essay on the American Flag. Gayle went on to major in English and graduate from Montana State University at Bozeman. Her flirtation with words developed into a love of the language and its possibilities while at the university. She published one poem, Pyrogenic Meditation. Several years later, she wrote a humorous column, A Piece of My Mind, for the Montana Standard, her hometown newspaper. Then Gayle took a shot at screenwriting before putting her typewriter away. She enrolled at the University of Montana College of Technology in Missoula, Montana at age 54 to become a paralegal and discovered the creative embers were still alive when she wrote essays for Comp 101. Gayle graduated with high honors and went to work for the Missoula County Attorney in the Criminal Division. When she retired in 2009, it had again been several years since she wrote creatively. Then one day, she realized she had waited long enough for an idea worthy of a novel. Gayle sat at the computer determined to write something or give up on the Dream once and for all. The characters came to life and would not let her rest until she told their story. The result is her first novel, SUMMER SOLSTICE.
THE SUNSET WITNESS