October Read of the Month: “Finding Joe,” by Rebecca Hunn

Rebecca Hunn

Reviewed by Donna Meredith

If you’re looking for an entertaining mystery crafted around a strong setting and unusual characters, check out Finding Joe, Rebecca Hunn’s debut novel.

The protagonist Donna Cain is “an oil and gas leasing agent—part sleuth, part genealogist, part salesperson,” who believes she has “the best job in the world.” She lives on thirty acres in West Virginia with a cabinetmaker/musician husband and a menagerie of animals. Her deputy sheriff son and older brother live nearby and serve in supporting roles.

While Donna’s family life enhances the story, the plot centers on her search for Joseph Tredloe, a great-nephew who, along with his siblings, stands to inherit a considerable sum—if only he can be found. After an argument, Joe disappeared without a trace twenty years earlier. He could be dead, in prison, or still angry at his family, not wanting to be found. Only his brother Harold and his father know what happened and they aren’t saying. Joe’s sister Miriam claims Harold is “one of the most stubborn men you’ll ever meet. To Harold, something is either right or wrong and there’s no in between.”

But Miriam says the family will always regret it if they don’t try to discover what happened to him. The sisters were angry at Joe, not for anything he did, but because he left without telling them why. Thus she gives Donna her blessing to search for him. All Donna’s sleuthing skills will be required to track him down after all this time.

One of her allies is Tony, a title searcher who tackles much of the online research needed to locate Joe. Part of the mystery involves Axel, a Tredloe ancestor who reserved the oil and gas despite selling numerous parcels of land. Why did the others involved in these transactions agree to part with the mineral rights? Tony and Donna suspect it has something to do with the time Axel spent in Central America. He was involved in the Banana Wars, “a sordid piece of American history that gets swept under the rug.” The trail to Joe extends from West Virginia to Central America to Louisiana and back.

The plot soon thickens with a dead body found along the road, booby-trapped land, and a drug bust. While the mystery and Donna’s job as an oil and gas agent alone would make for a worthwhile read, the social issue explored in this novel makes it stand out from others in this genre. To reveal it would be a plot spoiler, so you’ll just have to trust me that the story examines identity issues with unusual sensitivity and insight.

Originally from Clarksburg, Hunn moved to Monongalia County where she spent 31 years in radio sales at WCLG AM and FM before becoming an oil and gas leasing agent in the West Virginia Marcellus Shale in 2007. Her knowledge of the detective work required in this field gives the novel authenticity.

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