So, you find out one day that your brother has just been killed, brutally murdered in fact, by someone who seemed to take calm delight in watching him die slowly, agonizingly. The thing is, you can think of dozens of people who wished Billy harm, and a few who very well might have done it, including members of your own family.
Such is the situation of Ray Johnson, the narrator of Lisa Reardon's first novel, Billy Dead, as we begin a gut-wrenching trip into the past of an American family that's about as unappetizing as you will find. A relatively decent, tender man who's spent much of his life trying to keep out of harm's way, Ray has managed to cobble together a pretty good existence of steady job and thoughtful, intelligent girlfriend, Sally... until now. As he ranges around town in a surreal haze in the days following Billy's murder, meeting up with ghosts from the past, and interacting with various and sundry family members (including a mother who flirts with an old boyfriend in sight of her son's coffin), Ray realizes just how much he remains shackled to a past chock full of domestic abuse, alcoholism, incest, and just plain meanness.
While Billy's death seems a just, but unavoidable, conclusion to a nasty existence--"Somebody took that thing full of mean and made it nothing at all"--maybe he was the lucky one. For Ray, the killing pulls into sharp relief the hell on earth that is his when he realizes his only life passion is forbidden.
In a narrative that explores in terrifying detail the violent nature of Jean and Ray's past and the poignant truth of their relationship, Reardon creates a skillful and credible tale. This is a hard, in-your-face kind of book that takes you for a disturbing ride, and finally asks you to reexamine your notions of what is and what is not right when it comes to affairs of the heart. --Marianne Painter for Amazon.com