Book review: Hardboiled detective novel meets modern-day issues in ‘And There He Kept Her’ | Books

Jesse, 17, breaks into a house in Sandy Lake, Minnesota. Jenny, his girlfriend, shows up to arrest him. But what neither of them expected was that the owner, Emmett, would catch them.

Joshua Moehling’s gripping debut, “And There He Kept Her,” steadily picks up speed after Jesse and Jenny disappear. The slow rolling becomes two trains speeding at each other as the book switches between Emmett, who is holding Jenny captive, and Packard, the acting sheriff trying to find the two missing teenagers. When the story crumbles to its conclusion, the cloud of dust left in its violent wake promises a sequel.

While Packard is consumed by this new case, he also juggles the town’s woes – neighbor feuds and petty drug crimes – and the ghosts of his own past. There’s a skeleton in his closet that he’s determined to keep secret, but a town as small as Sandy Lake doesn’t miss much.

Emmett, on the other hand, seems to have reduced his demons, flying completely under the radar of the law and the small-town Midwest. The garish makeshift dungeon in his basement reveals that he is not just an innocent old man who has been the victim of break-ins. Jenny must unearth some kind of humanity in Emmett if she is to survive, and time is running out as her insulin supply runs out.

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Moehling’s characters are beyond three-dimensional. They look, sound, smell and think uniquely. Although there are more than a dozen key players who appear throughout “And There He Kept Her”, their depth makes each one memorable. They are morally ambiguous, each exploiting a rationale for who and what they are. They all make mistakes, have a secret, work towards a goal. Their ties to each other and to the city are undeniable, even when they are thin.

“And There He Kept Her” plays out like something on TV, resembling “Yellowstone” in its small-town setting and larger-than-life drama in a captivating, detailed landscape. Except the novel has fewer plot holes and is much more nuanced in its handling of social issues.

Beyond the small-town Midwest’s lingering homophobia, there are themes of poverty, abandonment of the elderly, disability and health complications. Moehling shows that it’s possible to include burning issues without making them the focal point – they can live in the background and motivate characters overtly and subtly, just like in real life.

Small details pop up that don’t seem to matter to the story, lending more authenticity to the novel and allowing readers to guess which threads connect to the overall mystery. Because sometimes, these details come back in a deliciously surprising way.

Accompanied by a reading group guide and a conversation with the author, “And There He Kept Her” is a great opportunity to embark on a new ground-level crime series. Especially if you like the idea of ​​the hard-boiled crime novel but prefer your stories set in modern times with slight touches of current social issues. Moehling is a solid debut that promises even better storylines, plot twists, and character development in the future.

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