If Elmore Leonard and Flannery O'Connor wrote a thriller together, it just might read like Ravens. George Dawes Green, founder of the acclaimed storytelling group the Moth (www.themoth.org), published The Caveman's Valentine and The Juror in the mid 1990s, but Ravens is his first novel in 14 years.
This wicked good read just might make you rethink that whole I-hope-I-win-the-lottery idea. The Boatwright family does just that: win a $318 million jackpot in the Georgia state lottery. Businessman dad Mitch, sloshed mom Patsy, whiny kid brother Jase and whip-smart college student sister Tara are happily stunned by how they expect their lives to change.
But they're not counting on Shaw McBride and Romeo Zderko. This pair of youngish, slackerish techies from Ohio, heading for a Florida vacation, pull into a convenience store in Brunswick, Ga., and hear about the local family that just won the jackpot. On the spot, Shaw conceives a plan to blackmail the Boatwrights out of half of the money — and Romeo, as he has all his life, goes along with the charismatic Shaw.
Ravens becomes a chilling battle of wits and wills between Shaw, who has a nasty gift for grift, and the fierce Tara. But Green also does a stellar job of placing the action in the context of a believable community, from Tara's spot-on extended family and her steel-magnolia grandmother Nell, to the hordes of "pilgrims" who gather in the wake of all the publicity to fawn over Shaw — folks dimwitted enough to think a big wad of money is a sign of God's grace.
The novel's point of view revolves among Tara, Shaw and poor, desperate Romeo; the audio version benefits from terrific performances by Robert Petkoff and Maggi-Meg Reed. Like the very best thrillers, Ravens crackles with sharp dialogue, complex characters, a corkscrew of a plot and a steely glimpse into the heart of darkness.
Colette Bancroft can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8435.