Friday Night Lights meets Mare of Easttown in this small-town mystery about an unlikely private investigator searching for a missing waitress. Pay Dirt Road is the mesmerizing debut from the 2019 Tony Hillerman Prize recipient Samantha Jayne Allen.
Annie McIntyre has a love/hate relationship with Garnett, Texas.
Recently graduated from college and home waitressing, lacking not in ambition but certainly in direction, Annie is lured into the family business—a private investigation firm—by her supposed-to-be-retired grandfather, Leroy, despite the rest of the clan’s misgivings.
When a waitress at the café goes missing, Annie and Leroy begin an investigation that leads them down rural routes and haunted byways, to noxious-smelling oil fields and to the glowing neon of local honky-tonks. As Annie works to uncover the truth, she finds herself identifying with the victim in increasing, unsettling ways, and realizes she must confront her own past—failed romances, a disturbing experience she’d rather forget, and the trick mirror of nostalgia itself—if she wants to survive this homecoming.
What’s it about (in a nutshell):
Pay Dirt Road by Samantha Jayne Allen is a dark and thrilling mystery in a small Texas town. Annie is a recent college grad who took a job as a waitress in her hometown while she figured out what was next. When a coworker is murdered, she joins her Private Investigator grandfather on the dangerous path to find a killer and, along the way, her own adult self.
What I Enjoyed:
The setting is described to perfection. Every detail put me there in a visceral way that could be almost claustrophobic. And the people in this town were people that I grew up with. People who stayed in the same small town they grew up in and found their place within this town as adults, often following in their parent’s footsteps. There are certain commonalities between small towns, and this novel describes them to perfection.
I loved the atmospheric feel of this story, whose pace was brought up by the many thrills of the dangerous investigation into Victoria’s death. The slower pace of the non-action scenes changes to a true page-turner when Annie and her grandfather, Leroy, begin their investigation. The first-person narration helps keep the pace at a comfortable speed as the reader experiences the dangers from Annie’s inexperienced perspective.
I love the family theme of this story, too. Annie comes from a long line of men and women who investigated crimes for a living. She can even trace her roots back to many greats grandmother who was a member of the Pinkerton Agency. This makes things challenging for her as she tries to decide her future direction, knowing that her father’s expectation is that she stay far away from the dangerous path of past family members.
What I Wish:
I sometimes wished that the pace would speed up a bit more, but then it would. But the stretches in between did feel a bit long in the middle.
Annie is at a crossroads. A recent college grad, when jobs were scarce, she decided not to enroll in law school. She is knee-deep in figuring things out when her coworker goes missing, and she is thrown into the life that her father had always tried to keep her far away from. Annie shows tremendous growth in this story as she figures out who she is as an adult and what career path she wants. I found her character so well-developed that she is instantly relatable and intricately layered to reflect any past scars.
Reminds Me Of:
The atmosphere and tone felt like a hard-boiled mystery. Still, the uniqueness comes from the young female detective in training to take her grandfather’s role.
The description calls it Friday Night Lights meets Mare of Easttown and I can see that.
To Read or Not to Read:
If you are looking for a modern version of a hard-boiled mystery with an unexpected detective, you will want to pick up Pay Dirt Road.