The narrator of this story is Frank Drum, a 13-year-old boy who lives in a small Minnesota town with his family: younger brother Jake, who has a severe stutter; older sister Ariel, a talented muscian destined for Julliard; father Nathan, an earnest Methodist pastor; and mother Ruth, choir director and superb singer who thought she was marrying a future lawyer and is not happy with her husband's vocation. The Drums are an average family with loving parents and nice children who behave as typical children do.
The book - structured as a mystery - is really about death and faith. As the tale opens it's the very hot summer of 1961 and the town seems to be experiencing more than it's share of death. A schoolmate of the Drum brothers, playing on the railroad tracks, is killed by a train and soon afterwords the brothers find a dead hobo in almost the same spot. This naturally get the boys thinking about death, and God, and heaven - sentiments apparently reinforced by regularly attending three church services every Sunday where their father preaches, their mother conducts the choir, and their sister plays the organ.
Soon afterwards the Drums experiences a personal tragedy that rocks their world, tests the faith of some family members, and starts to tear the family apart. Some turn to God for comfort, others reject God for allowing such a thing to happen.
As authorities investigate the tragedy, Frank - determined to keep himself informed - snoops around, usually with Jake tagging along. Thus the brothers discover things they shouldn't know, talk too much, and do some damage themselves.
The book is filled with interesting characters: Gus, a jack-of-all-trades with a drinking problem who served in the army with Nathan; Ariel's boyfriend, a son of the town's wealthiest family who drives a fancy car and has snobby parents; Ariel's music teacher and mentor, a blinded, emotionally damaged man who once jilted Ariel's mother; a deaf, disturbed girl with a passion for gardening; a crude, bigoted cop whose prejudices get in the way of his job; a rough-living Indian man who appears a likely suspect; a family with an abusive father, and more.
The mystery of the book is resolved in a believable fashion and the characters' faith is restored by a small, touching 'miracle'. Overall a good story with a satisfying mystery and a touch of faith that's not overly preachy.
Rating: 4 stars