The Quarry Girls by Jess Lourey* is a literary thriller set in late 1970s Paynesville, Minnesota. To cut to the quick: I’m strongly recommending that you read this book.
Minnesota has an interesting relationship with “caves” and tunnels. Our downtowns have flying tunnels connecting the upper floors (third or fourth, usually) of skyscrapers. There are “caves” going under Saint Paul along the Mississippi river, some converted into tourist destinations, others sealed off because they are dangerous. Most or all of those are mines, not caves, but somehow our news media and other spokes-entities of our local culture have decided that a major human-made landscape feature that kills children will be dubbed natural. If you want more detail on that, put a note on a post-it to remind yourself to look it up at a later time. Closer to Minneapolis, and, really, beneath Minneapolis, is a network of natural caves. Actually, these natural caves are in many parts of the state. They would be better known were it not for the last glaciation, which covered much of our landscape with a very thick layer of till, temporarily (in geological time) obliviating the sinkholes that make up much of our karstic terrain. This is why we have very few home-swallong sink holes, even though we should have many.
Among all the tunnels and caves, some of the most interesting are to be found in Panville, Minnesota, which happens to be near where Jess Lourey lived as a kid. Panville, a neighborhood of Saint Cloud, was founded by a guy who seems to have been the Elon Musk of his day, sort of, by the name of Samuel Pandolfo. Pandolfo build an automotive factory, and an adjoining factory town with several dozen diverse homes. Pandolfo came up from Mississippi to Minnesota, so naturally, when he got a look at the climate, he freaked, and built tunnels connecting the factory town’s homes to the factory, in order to keep his workers at work and alive. He probably dind’t need to, they would have walked, but he was from a much warmer clime, so what did he know? Anyway, the Pan Motor Company’s cars never made much of a splash, and Pandolfo ended up in Leavenworth which at least is in warmer Kansas. But the tunnels, and the homes, remained. And the whole thing is a little spooky.
Enough about tunnels Let’s talk about serial killers. See the chart.
We’ve had a lot of serial killers in the US (check Wikipedia if you don’t believe me) but there seems to have been an extra large number in the 1960s and 1970s. Note that the rapid fall off on this chart probably reflects the fact that serial killers tend to remain active for decades before they are discovered and popped into the Table of Known Serial Killers in Wikipedia. But the 1980s looks like a real drop off, and I think it is safe to say that the American Serial Killer had a bloody golden age in the 1960s and 1970s. And, a few of them, at least, were operating in the general vicinity of Jess Payne’s childhood, both in time and in space.
So, what do you get when you add together a creepy old factory town with creepy tunnels, a plethora of mad men who abduct, rape, and kill, some nearby quarries, and a highly talented and experienced writer who is, by the way, actively and successfully experimenting with using writing to heal and understand childhood fear and adult angst about, well, serial killers and tunnels and stuff?
You get Quarry Girls by Jess Lourey.
Quarry Girls hase one of the best ever opening sentences at one end of the book, and a tear jerking final chapter. It is filled in between with a tightly structured story with characters that grab you by the limbic system, draw you in, and keep you there until you finish the story and order another one by the same author. In my fiction reviews, I rarely discuss the story itself. Let’s face it. If you are reading this, you are one of my trusted and trusting readers. Just go read the book.
I should tell you right now that I was drawn into the Lourey sphere of literature when I came across an earlier book, “Bloodline” This is a story set in a similar environment, central Minnesota (for reference, dead in the middle of Michele Bachmann’s old Congressional District, so you know it is going to be a little creepy). Also, in a similar older period. I sense that Lourey sets her stories in an earlier decade in part because the things that make Minnesota Minnesota were less adulterated by the outside world in those earlier times. (There are other reasons as well, having to do with her personal history, as stated by the author herself.) Bloodline is a creepy story about some creepy people, and a lovable but still a little creepy protagonist. I loved it, and it made me look for more, and that is how I eventually came across the author’s most recent book, Quarry Girls. Meanwhile there is another book that I’ve not read, and frankly I’m a little scared to. I have some of my own emotional baggage that is threatened with exposure from the story presented in Jess Lourey’s breakthrough novel, Unspeakable Things. I am going to read it, though. Fortunately on-line therapy has become readily available an doesn’t cost that much.
(OK, OK, I admit: I’m teasing the author here a little. I’ve got an unspeakable story, but it isn’t really that debilitating. I’m sure I’m going to enjoy the book. I’ll tell you about it after I read it.)
So, go start reading Jess Loury’s books, and report back!