Author Stories Podcast Episode 896 | Heather Young Interview
Today’s author interview guest is Heather Young, author of The Distant Dead.
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A young boy finds himself at the center of a murder mystery in this timely and twisty thriller from the author of the acclaimed The Lost Girls–a compelling and indelible story set in small town America that examines the burden of guilt, the bitter price of forgiveness, and the debts we owe our dead, both recent and distant.
A body burns in the high desert hills. A young boy walks into a fire station, pale with the shock of a grisly discovery. A middle school teacher worries when her colleague is late for work. By day’s end, when the body is identified as new math teacher Adam Merkel, a small Nevada town will begin its reckoning with a brutal and calculated murder.
Adam Merkel left a university professorship to teach middle school math in Lovelock seven months before he died. A quiet, seemingly unremarkable man, he spoke little about his past and connected with only one of his students: Sal Prentiss, an orphaned sixth grader who lives on a remote ranch in the hills with his uncles. The two outcasts developed a tender, trusting friendship that brought each of them hope in the wake of tragedy. But it is Sal who finds Adam’s body, and Sal who must carry his darkest secret.
Nora Wheaton is the middle school’s social studies teacher. Twelve years ago she abandoned her dream of being an archaeologist to care for her disabled father, a man she loves but can’t forgive for her brother’s death. As she delves into Adam’s past for clues to who killed him she draws closer to Sal, unearths difficult truths about her relationship with her father, and finds an unexpected chance to — perhaps — live the life she thought she’d lost.
Over the course of one fateful school year, all three of these kindred spirits must wrestle with the burden of remorse, the price of forgiveness, and the debts they owe their dead. The very questions, it turns out, that also haunt Adam’s killer.
Weaving together the last months of Adam Merkel’s life and Nora’s search for answers after his death, this literary thriller crafts a taut web of suspense that builds relentlessly to its shattering, unexpected conclusion.
Heather Young is the author of two novels. Her debut, The Lost Girls, won the Strand Award for Best First Novel and was nominated for an Edgar Award. The Distant Dead was published on June 9, 2020, and was named one of the Best Books of Summer by People Magazine, Parade, and CrimeReads. A former antitrust and intellectual property litigator, she traded the legal world for the literary one and earned her MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars in 2011. She lives in Mill Valley, California, where she writes, bikes, hikes, and reads books by other people that she wishes she’d written.