In Mary Frances Hill’s promising debut, a young woman is compelled to confront her past and a terrifying tragedy from her childhood.
Kate, a third-grade teacher, strives to become successful in the world of art. When she approaches a gallery owner, hoping to sell her paintings, what instead catches the gallery owner’s eye is an unusual drawing that falls from Kate’s briefcase by accident. As a teen in New Jersey, Kate had witnessed her best friend Whitney’s abduction. Whitney was murdered five days after she was snatched. Her killer, dubbed the Worm Man since earthworms were his identifying mark, died before he was caught and arrested. This drawing emanated from the horrific experience.
When she manages to sell the drawing at an exorbitant price, Kate is happy she can finally pay her bills. However, her life is upended when Cassie, her favorite student, is abducted while collecting earthworms. Kate is certain there’s more than meets the eye with Cassie’s disappearance but finds it hard to believe the ghost of her childhood friend’s murderer has come back to life after being dead a decade. Together with Globe reporter Tom Kingsley, a Worm Man expert, she seeks the truth, a journey that could cost her everything she holds dear, including her own life.
This is a compelling novel with strong, complex characters that come alive on the pages, each with a clear-cut personality, quirky motivations, and distinct morals and viewpoints. Hill’s graceful creativity is evident as she weaves well-worn mystery tropes into a fresh and vibrant tapestry.
At times poignant and chilling, and other times pleasant and witty, The Worm Man is voyeuristic in all the right ways. Hill’s prose shifts neatly from grisly to rhapsodic and back again, illuminating a distorted world while examining the human soul.
Despite a few editing errors, this is a readable story with a richly woven plotline bound to appeal to the target audience.
Also available as an ebook.