Poet Jeff Newberry’s novel A Stairway to the Sea is a chimera, twisted through with the DNA of both finely wrought literary fiction and the mystery novel. This is a book as much about place as person: Sheriff’s Deputy Justin Everson’s life is deeply entangled with the beautiful and suffocating northwest Florida Gulf Coast where he’s spent his short, but heavily felt, twenty-six years. In fact, as Everson—still dazed and depressed after the accidental death of his wife—investigates the death of a high school classmate who has recently returned from Iraq under mysterious circumstances, he and the reader both begin to wonder if person and place are inextricably intertwined…and whether that represents a rope ladder or a noose.
Newberry has a fine ear, and while the central mysteries play out—the literally and metaphorically existential questions of what really happened to Donny Lee Miles and what will happen to Sheriff’s Deputy Justin Everson?—readers will enjoy his evocative prose, bringing to life the people and atmosphere of St. Vincent, an amalgam of many small towns in the real Apalachee County. Newberry’s nod to James Lee Burke (forced to take some time off, Everson stops at a library and checks out a copy of The Neon Rain , the first Detective Robicheaux novel), an author who creates a similarly charged, almost alien atmosphere, is well-earned.
This is first class writing that will appeal to fans of mystery and literary fiction alike…and hopefully bring readers from each side over to the other.
[Note: my reading experience was slightly marred by the number of typos and formatting errors. The latter could be attributable to conversion to the Kindle format, but the former is unfortunate and I hope, if the book gets another printing, the errors are corrected…I’d hate to see potential readers turned off by these technicalities.]