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Dark Road Home

Dark Road Home

4.5 4
by Anna Carlisle

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The summer after she graduated from high school, Gin Sullivan's sister, Lily, went missing. Her family fell apart, not to mention her relationship with her high school sweetheart Jake. Now, almost twenty years later, Gin is living in Chicago and working as a medical examiner when she gets the call. A body's been found in the woods outside her small hometown. It's


The summer after she graduated from high school, Gin Sullivan's sister, Lily, went missing. Her family fell apart, not to mention her relationship with her high school sweetheart Jake. Now, almost twenty years later, Gin is living in Chicago and working as a medical examiner when she gets the call. A body's been found in the woods outside her small hometown. It's Lily.

Confronting your past is never easy, but for Gin it means confronting Jake, who was the prime suspect in Lily's disappearance, but as Gin examines her sister's remains, she uncovers a shocking truth that could change everything, if it doesn't kill her first.

Buried secrets come to light in Dark Road Home, Anna Carlisle's sharp and simmering debut mystery.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 05/16/2016
Chicago-based medical examiner Virginia “Gin” Sullivan, the heroine of Carlisle’s outstanding first novel, makes her first visit in years to her rust belt hometown of Trumbull, Pa., after she learns of the discovery of the remains of her rambunctious and independent sister, Lily, who went missing the summer Gin graduated from high school. Lily’s body was found in the woods in a large cooler that belonged to Gin and her then boyfriend, Jake Crosby. Lily’s disappearance had catastrophic effects not only on her sister and parents but also on the others in their tight-knit group, including the twins Tom and Christine, whose widowed father depended on Gin’s mother for assistance, and on Jake. As the hunt for Lily’s killer points first to one suspect then another, Gin realizes how much her life in Chicago was an attempt to escape the pain of her past and how unsatisfying her life has become. An engrossing story line and cast of fully developed characters make this debut psychological thriller hard to put down. Agent: Barbara Poelle, Irene Goodman Literary Agency. (July)
From the Publisher

"Outstanding. An engrossing story line and cast of fully developed characters make this debut psychological thriller hard to put down."
--Publishers Weekly starred review

"With protagonists so well drawn that readers will feel as if they know them intimately, this excellent mystery will appeal to fans of Gillian Roberts and Nicci French."
--Library Journal starred review

"Carlisle brings...originality and spin to the proceedings... Gin is a strong protagonist, and readers will wonder what is in store for her next."
--RT Book Reviews

"Anna Carlisle's Dark Road Home grabbed me at the very beginning and never let go. It's a tense, taut, gripping thriller about long buried secrets and the powerful hold the past has on all of us. You won't be able to put it down, and the book's final chapters will leave you shocked and satisfied. Don't miss this great debut!"
--David Bell, bestselling author of Somebody I Used to Know

"Dark Road Home is a gripping, twisty journey into the past that surprised me at every turn. Gin is an appealing heroine and her family is dysfunctional enough to feel absolutely real. A very accomplished novel."
--Jane Casey, Mary Higgins Clark Award-winning author of the Maeve Kerrigan mysteries

Library Journal
★ 07/01/2016
Virginia "Gin" Sullivan could not leave Trumbull, PA, behind fast enough. The summer after her senior year in high school, her world imploded when her little sister, Lily, disappeared. Everyone in town thought Gin's boyfriend, Jake Crosby, had killed her. Now, Gin is a pathologist in Chicago, but when Lily's body is found, folded up inside a cooler, Gin returns home to confront her past. Seventeen years ago, twins Tom and Christine Parker were Gin's constant companions, and the three of them made an inseparable quintet with Jake and Lily. But old secrets raise their ugly heads as Gin draws on her forensic skills to investigate. Debut author Carlisle deftly interweaves her characters' memories into the well-paced story line, creating a haunting tableau. VERDICT With protagonists so well drawn that readers will feel as if they know them intimately, this excellent mystery will appeal to fans of Gillian Roberts and Nicci French.
Kirkus Reviews
A medical examiner returns to her small-town home to investigate the death of her sister, a task as personally as professionally demanding. Growing up in a small town with a close-knit group of friends, Gin Sullivan felt warmly supported even though her parents, Richard and Madeline, seemed more concerned with their professional lives than their children. Maybe that's what led Gin and her sister, Lily, to treat their friends like family until the summer when everything changed. When Lily went missing, it seemed a forgone conclusion that she would never be seen again. Her disappearance pitted Gin against her high school sweetheart, Jake Crosby, the last person to see Lily alive. Almost two decades later, Gin recognizes Jake's voice when he calls her out of the blue to tell her that a body has been found in the woods and that they think it's Lily. Returning home to support her parents, Gin is surprised how little the town has changed even though she's felt a million miles away. She wastes no time calling in favors and sweet-talking Jake's father and local cop Lawrence to get her into Lily's autopsy. She is, after all, an extremely qualified medical examiner, so the department should be grateful for her help. What she discovers during the exam changes everything she thought she knew about Lily and the group of friends she thought she could depend on. Now she must rely on Jake to help her learn the whole truth, not knowing if he's the one who hid everything from her in the first place. Though Carlisle's series debut is a bit too pat to hit the mark, there's room for her writing to grow even if the same can't be said for her characters.

Product Details

Crooked Lane Books
Publication date:
A Gin Sullivan Mystery Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.90(d)

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Read an Excerpt


The trick was to get to the Forest Preserve late in the afternoon, after the mommy brigade had packed their strollers into their SUVs and headed home, and before everyone else got off work. When Gin Sullivan hit it just right, she could put in six miles without seeing more than a few other people. Later in the summer it would be impossible—the sweltering Chicago heat and humidity would drive even the most dedicated runners off the trails in the heat of the day—but so far, this June had been cool and pleasant.

Gin pulled into a spot vacated by a frazzled-looking woman in a Suburban and was on the trail by 4:30. The occasional early departure from the office was one of the perks of working as a medical examiner. After clearing the day’s case load, Gin had left with a clear conscience, knowing that new arrivals to the morgue would not mind waiting until tomorrow.

Patience, in Gin’s opinion, was a virtue of the dead.

Besides, she had been in the office before anyone else arrived, and she’d spend several hours working on a journal article tonight after a shower and a quick dinner. This time on the trail was the single indulgence she would allow herself today.

If “indulgence” was the right word for it. Gin kept up an easy, steady pace for the first mile, until the path came to a T, the right branch continuing along the picturesque Cal-Sag Channel.

Gin took the left branch. The terrain quickly became much more challenging, rising up into a rocky, mountainous mound. Thanks to the engineers who’d dug the channel almost one hundred years ago and dumped out the dirt next to it, the preserve provided some of the only decent trail running for hundreds of miles.

Gin headed up the trail, modulating her breathing and increasing her pace, aiming for the narrow space between exhilaration and exhaustion. In those moments, her thoughts splintered and faded and her mind emptied, and there was nothing but the slapping of her feet on dirt, the pain in her lungs, and the faint roar of the interstate in the distance.

She picked her way across a rocky quarter mile before the trail flattened out into a meadow with views of the skyline far in the distance. She paused at her customary turn-around spot, doubling over with her hands on her knees, breathing hard under a stand of aspen while a squirrel chattered angrily from an overhanging branch.

Gin drank in the cool, fresh air, free of the faintly unpleasant odors that filled her days at work: the chemical disinfectant, the ammonia-like formalin, the metallic-sweet-musty smell of decomposition. For these few precious moments, it was just her, the hill, and the weak yellow sunlight streaming through the trees, the past a blur that might have belonged to someone else entirely, the future open and unknowable.

She was stretching out her hamstrings in preparation for the steep descent when her phone rang. She dug the phone from the pocket of her running shorts, wishing she’d left the damn thing in the car.

An 814 number. Shit. Gin’s thumb hovered over the keypad. The 814 area code included Trumbull, and there wasn’t anyone in Trumbull she wanted to talk to. The number was unfamiliar, however. If it had been either of her parents, the choice would have been easy—let it go to voice mail, tackle it later when she’d had time to prepare herself—but Gin couldn’t think of anyone else in Trumbull who would want to talk to her.

As a forensic pathologist, Gin had developed an exquisite sense of the fragility of life. And while Richard and Madeleine Sullivan had been perfectly healthy during their last conversation several weeks ago, and though they were still fairly young and stubbornly fit, Gin couldn’t think of them without feeling the twin burdens of guilt and responsibility.

She sighed and leaned against the smooth bark of a tall white oak, wiping the perspiration from her forehead with the back of her arm before answering.

“Virginia Sullivan.”

“Gin?” a man’s voice asked.

And in just that one syllable, everything that Gin had worked so hard to bury deep in the past came crashing back.

• *

When Gin was in medical school, she had briefly worked as a graduate assistant for a professor who was doing research in speech perception. She learned that speech perception was based on an astonishingly detailed palette of information—not just pitch, gender, and dialect, but also speaking rate, emotional state, and a dozen other indexical properties.

So even though it had been almost two decades since Gin had heard Jake Crosby’s voice—he’d be thirty-six now, a few months older than her—it
only took that one word for her to know that the voice belonged to the first and only boy she’d ever fallen hard for. But the emotion accompanying that realization was not love or affection or even nostalgia, but a roiling mix of dread and resentment.

“Yes, this is Virginia,” she said, to buy herself time. “How can I help you?”

“Gin, it’s Jake. Jake Crosby.”

“Oh.” She squeezed her eyes shut and grimaced. Play this easy, she ordered herself. He doesn’t mean anything to you.

“Wow, Jake, I haven’t talked to you in ages. How are you?”

“I’m, well, I’m okay, I’m fine.” He hesitated, and Gin could picture the way he used to run his hand through his dark, unruly hair when he was flustered. “I’m afraid I’ve got some, uh, potentially upsetting news.”

Mom? Dad? Gin shook her head, clearing the ridiculous fears; there was no reason in the world Jake would have news of her parents. He had ceased to be a part of their lives many years ago.


“They found a body out in the woods west of town, by the old water tower. They think...look, Gin, I’m going out on a limb here, telling you, because no information’s been released to the public yet, but it looks like it could be Lily.”

Lily. Oh God...

The breath caught in Gin’s throat; the spring-green world around her lost focus. Oh, Lily.

She had to say something, but to speak now would betray her, would destroy the barriers she had built with such care.

“Gin, I’m so sorry,” Jake began, and she could hear in his tone that he had his own armor, his own walls. But he had had the time to prepare for this call, and she hadn’t. He had probably practiced it in his head a dozen times, the way he’d once practiced his AP English presentations, kicked back in that old beanbag chair in his father’s rec room with his hands behind his head while Gin sat at the clunky keyboard working on her college application essays.

Of all people to tell her, of all the gossamer threads that should have been cut long ago—why did it have to be him?

“Okay. I see.” Her voice tasted metallic and she knew she probably sounded cold. She’d heard it often enough in her performance reviews at work—her matter-of-fact delivery, a defense against the emotional intensity of her work, made her seem uncaring. “Thank you for letting me know.”

“Gin, don’t—”

“I’ll make some calls.”

“Dad will be expecting to hear from you.”

Was he warning her, or giving her permission? She wouldn’t be surprised if Jake was breaking his father’s confidence; he probably shouldn’t be telling her anything at all. After all, he was a contractor, not a cop.

But Lawrence Crosby had blurred the lines long before Jake was old enough to do it himself. He always put people first, even if that meant bending the rules. As a small-town chief of police, Lawrence had always tried to do his best by everyone.

Not the best quality in a police officer—something Gin had had to move almost five hundred miles away, and spend years working with big-city cops, to understand.

Memories of Lawrence—his big, sunburned hands with square fingernails cut short; his voice, so gentle, when he had come to their door with his hat in his hands that rainy summer night, water dripping down his face.

“Jake, I...appreciate it. Who found it?” Not her. Gin wouldn’t let it be a her. A body, as she knew better than anyone, was only an awkward and often unlovely assemblage of muscle and fat, bones and teeth.

“Hikers.” Jake cleared his throat, perhaps attempting to disguise the faint quaver in his voice. A quaver that could be grief...or something else entirely. The old doubts crowded back into Gin’s mind along with all the other emotions Jake provoked. “Couple of kids from Duquesne University, hiking along Bear Creek. They had a dog with them. The dog, I guess it got to digging.”

“How deep?” Gin asked, surprised. A body buried close enough to the surface for a dog to scent it would have been discovered long before seventeen years had passed.

“I don’t know exactly.” She could hear him take a breath, all those miles away. “Not far, though, maybe a foot or two. Dad—Lawrence—said the dog was likely going after a bird carcass. But it got down a ways and hit the lid of a cooler. The boys pulled the dog off it but then they got curious themselves. Cleared the dirt off the lid and opened it up.”

“A cooler,” Gin said, a sick feeling creeping into her gut.

“By the Bear Creek trail?”

“Yeah,” Jake said. “I know what you’re thinking. There’s a good chance it was ours.”

Meet the Author

Anna Carlisle lives in northern California, where she teaches writing. This is her first novel.

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Dark Road Home 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous 7 months ago
Cynthia181 More than 1 year ago
I received this book from a Goodreads giveaway. It was a wonderful read. With all the twist in turns that you expect in a mystery but with a lot of explanation of why each of the characters are or where the way they were. Gin gets a call from her high school sweetheart to let her know that they found the body of her missing sister that has been missing or 14 years and she needed to call her parents and get home to her small town. She had a great career as a ME in Chicago but she knew her skills would be needed in her little town in Penn. and she needed to find out what happened. You really don't know who did it until the end but with all the twist and turns it is a book that you just don't want to put down and find out who really did it. I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a good read.
eternalised More than 1 year ago
Gin’s little sister went missing years ago. Now she’s called back home because Lily’s body was found. She’s confronted with the past, with secrets guarded for years, and with Jake, who was the prime suspect in Lily’s disappearance. Amazing writing, and I had no trouble understanding Gin and her thoughts and actions. While some twists were predictable, overall I really enjoyed the book. I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thanks! I will defintley keep this in mind.)) <br> My coma was like a dream. <br> I forgot everything as soon as I woke up.. and I felt like I'd just woken up from the longest sleep of my life. My whole body was just- numb. And freezing cold. <br> I jerked my body to its side. Ran one of my numb hands on the carpet I was laying on... white. Ivory, more like, and not a soft carpet, but very very clean. <br><br> "Winter. You sneaky little scoundrel you!" The voice came from behind me, but above me as well. Suddenly I felt queasey. My body shook with shivers, and it wasn't from the temperature. <br> Hadley Jones had that effect on people. <br> "Not liking the turn of events, are you, Winter?" Her voice snarled. "You're wondering, of course, why you're not dead. Like you're upset you aren't. Hah!" Her laugh was fake, forced. I'd heard it a million times. <br> "Did you think I'd let you kill yourself in front of those people? Were you that stupid as to think that would only publicisize us? No! You were ever MORE stupid.. and took it. Welcome to the Black Cloud, Winter. Enjoy your hotel room. And DON'T order room service." Hadley tossed a keychain, ever so lightly, onto my side. But it hurt like hell. My side pratically burned. <br><br> I picked it up with my index finger and thumb. On one chain was a hotel key card. 'HOTEL DEGLI ORAFI' I breathed a sigh of relief. And I'd thought they put me in somewhere far off and secluded. But here I was, gratefully in a room surrounded by probably up to ten people. <br> I laid back more, resting my head on the hard carpet. Hung against the key card was a black penny with a silver ingraving on it, which I reconized as the Black Clouds symbol. <br><br> So that was it. <br> I was in the Black Cloud. The multi-cultural secret organization against blood rankings. A certain blood ranking that everyone had in the Black Cloud was... stupid. Yes, the Black Cloud was part of six other secret groups, the Black Cloud being the most... horrible. The least powerful. <br><br> All because I stayed loyal and ate the pill, da<_>mnit! <br><br> ((Next chapter- Winters memories and the whole story))