We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker has gotten a lot of attention since it was first published in March 2020. Several of my reviewer friends have given it 5-stars. One reviewer described it as engrossing and another marked it as an all-time favorite. Unfortunately, it missed the mark for me. I liked it but did not love it. I found it to be slow-moving, especially in beginning. Many of the characters are too stereotypical, including their names.
Fifteen-year-old Vincent King [football player and beloved friend] is sent to prison after a hit-and-run accident killed Sissy [the sister] of Vincent’s girlfriend, Star Radley [the beautiful singer]. Now thirty years later, Vincent is finally being released and coming back home to the small coastal town of Cape Haven, California. His childhood best friend, Walk, [the good guy] is now the town sheriff. Walk, who turned Vincent in after seeing the damage to his car, had visited Vincent regularly and kept his promise to look out for Star while Vincent is in prison. Five years before his release, Vincent had stopped all communication with both Walk and Star. When he gets out of prison a local developer, Dickie Darke [the bad guy], makes Vincent a $1,000,000 offer to buy his beachfront home. Vincent declines. Walk wants nothing more than to rekindle their old friendship, but Star refuses to see Vincent.
Star Radley’s life is a mess, especially after Vincent cut off communication with her. She rents a home from Darke and is unable to pay her rent. Darke has his own ideas about how to get paid. Star gets by with some singing gigs and odd jobs. She has two children out-of-wedlock, 13-year-old Duchess Day Radley [the outlaw] and 5-year-old Robin [the innocent, sweet prince of a boy]. The children have no idea who their fathers are. Duchess is forced to grow up quickly. Duchess cares for Robin’s personal and emotional needs since Star is incapable. While she is devoted to Robin, Duchess is self-defensive, acerbic, and standoffish to everyone else. As a self-professed outlaw, she commits a criminal act for revenge against Darke, which forever changes her world and those in it.
Soon after Duchess’s criminal act, there is a murder. Vincent King is charged and once again refuses to speak. Walk, who has an illness he hasn’t revealed, becomes obsessed with proving Vincent’s innocence. His former teenaged girlfriend is a family law attorney. She agrees to help in a limited capacity after Vincent refuses to talk to a criminal defense attorney. Walk is convinced that Dickie Darke is guilty of the murder, but he cannot prove it since Darke has control over a lot of the townspeople. Unless Walk can come up with some evidence (real or falsified) Vincent will most likely be sentenced to death.
Duchess is convinced of Vincent’s guilt. The children are sent to live in Montana with their grandfather, whom they do not know. The bad guy promises to come after Duchess. Despite being dismissive to him, Duchess is befriended by a classmate, Thomas Noble [another name that is just a little too descriptive]. Noble agrees to help Duchess in the event Darke shows up. After another murder, the children are placed into foster care. When they finally have a chance of going to a loving home, Duchess’s mouth gets in her trouble again. They are then sent to a group home. Robin, who is now six, is upset with her, but still trusts her to care for him. Duchess must decide to either straighten up or leave Robin so she can get revenge on Vincent and Darke.
SEMI-SPOILER alert: I had recently watched the HBO mini-series for Mare of Easttown. Because of that, I was quickly able to figure out who committed the murder that Vincent is charged with. In the end, I didn’t find some of the explanations to be plausible, especially those involving Vincent and Star’s relationship.
3-Stars from me, but remember I am an outlier here. If you enjoy police procedural/mystery novels, then this book could be perfect for you. I listened to the audio which is 10 hours and 30 minutes. The narrator was exceptional.