Driving home from a bonfire party, eighteen-year-old John Hawk crashes, killing his girlfriend, Riley. Bullied and tormented at school, and crushed by his guilty conscience, John transfers to a school on the banks of the Mississippi River, where he attracts the eye of the principal’s daughter, Megan. Though he’s reluctant, she convinces him to be her prom date. The morning after prom, Principal Jones reports Megan missing. Four days later, her body is recovered from the river, and John becomes the prime suspect in her death.
Charley Cotton, Megan’s best friend, knows that Megan had a secret, but she doesn’t trust John because of his past. John is desperate to avoid adding to the shame he carries for Riley’s death, though—it’s destroying his life. With Charley’s help, he learns that others in Megan’s life had a motive to keep her quiet. But every effort they make to uncover the truth edges them closer to a desperate murderer with everything to lose.
THE WEIGHT OF GUILT
Riley's drunk, and it's all my fault. Swaying near the blazing bonfire with a dozen other kids, she's guzzling beer from a red Solo cup. They laugh, jostle, and slop beer over themselves.
Damn! I should have been paying more attention to her. I should have kept better track of time. You idiot, John! I need to get her home and tuck her into bed—now—or we'll both be in deep crap. I step up behind her in the brilliant firelight. The heat feels good on my face and arms, but the smoke curls into my nostrils, and I cough. Someone must have piled wet logs onto the blaze.
I touch Riley's shoulder. "We better go."
She whirls. "Where have you been?"
"Checking out Brian's weightlifting equipment. I forgot the time. Sorry."
Flames leap and crackle into the crisp night air, casting flickering shadows across Riley's face. Her eyes glitter like stars in the inferno. A few kids rotate, trying to keep all sides warm. Earlier, we roasted hot dogs, bratwurst, and marshmallows over the oak blaze.
"What time is it?" she asks, her words slurred a little.
"Midnight." I’d promised her folks I'd have her home already. I don't need them yelling at me again. Or breaking us up. That thought jars me. I'd rather lose an arm and a leg than lose Riley. She's the only thing good in my life, except wrestling.
"They never come home before two or three," she says and gulps her beer.
"Let's throw that away. You've had enough to drink."
She smiles, her mouth crooked. "Look who's talking."
"I haven't had a sip." True statement. I never drink the night before a wrestling tournament. I dump Riley's beer but hang on to the cup—I don't litter. I also help little old ladies cross the street. "I can do without your folks being pissed at me. They already don't trust me."
"Yes, they do." Riley grabs my free hand and squeezes.
After planting a kiss on her forehead, I say, "C'mon, pretty lady. Home we go." I guide her by the elbow away from the fire.
The party was a spring break bash at Brian Holdorf's parents' farm pond. Dense woods block out half the sky, and a breeze ripples the treetops. My arm around her waist, I guide Riley across the pasture to my car, which is parked by the farmhouse. A squatty barn and a tall silo loom close by. Brilliant stars and a huge moon light our way. Laughter drifts up from the pond, and the scent of pigs floats in the air.
Opening the car's passenger door, I toss Riley's cup in the back. Then I slip her into the seat and close the door. After I climb in, I close my door and poke the lock button to make sure we're secured. "Buckle up."
Rather than take Interstate 80, I drive a ribbon of country blacktop that twists through hilly farmland. I think I can drive the blacktop faster than the highway—hardly any traffic and less chance of the cops picking me up for speeding. I don't need another face-off with them.
"I'll bet my parents aren't home," Riley says after we've been on the road a minute or two. She leans over and kisses my cheek. "Let's park somewhere. This road's dark." Her hair smells of wood smoke, her breath of stale beer.
I smile. I wouldn't mind parking for an hour or so and making out. "We need to get you home and into bed."
Wisps of fog curl in my headlights. I'm zooming downhill toward the Des Moines River, and the curtain of fog thickens quickly. I cut my speed from seventy to fifty, then to thirty. I don't want to be going too fast if a deer darts into the road. Fifteen…
The fog turns dense—a gray, billowing wall that reflects the glow of my headlights back into my eyes. I squint and dim the car lights. I swallow and slow the vehicle to a crawl: ten miles per hour. I glue my eyes to the yellow center line and guide the car's left fender along the line.
"Why are you slowing down?" Riley asks.
"Can't you see how soupy it is out there?"
I'm not sure when I cross the bridge over the river. The fog is too thick to see even the side rails. But when I head uphill, my grip on the wheel eases. I fill my lungs and exhale slowly. I've escaped the danger. The moment I can see ahead of me though—still going ten miles an hour—I spot headlights racing toward me. They blind me. I barely have time to swear.
This can't be!
Even Riley sees the headlights. She screams, and the next sound is the wail of my horn and the hideous grinding shriek of brakes as I try to swerve and evade the headlights.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Weight of Guilt by Jon Ripslinger is a 2015 Red Adept Publishing release. I was provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
This is a solid YA mystery thriller centered around John Hawk, an eighteen year old high school senior who has moved in with his sister to finish out the last semester of school, after a horrific car crash takes the life of his girlfriend, Riley.
John tries to keep to himself, keep his head down, and stay out of trouble. He is all tied up in knots over Riley's death, although he was not at fault. However, a young and popular girl named Megan decides to take John under her wing and coerces him into being her date for the prom. John knew deep down it was a bad idea, but Megan wouldn't take no for an answer. But, when an ugly confrontation at the prom with Megan's ex- boyfriend transpires, the couple leave together, but only one of them makes it home.
The next day Jon finds himself the number one person of interest in Megan's disappearance. When her body if found four days later, Jon knows he needs to find out what happened to his friend because it's obvious he is being framed for her murder.
John and Megan bond over their crappy lives, both having been dealt a sorry hand of cards when it came to parents and bad luck. Both of them acted out because of the issues in their home lives, and both of them were hurting. But, before anything could come of the relationship, Megan is murdered.
When John begins searching for clues he approaches Charley, Megan's best friend, hoping she might have some answers. The two get off on the wrong foot initially, but Charley slowly begins to realize she and John are on the same side and they begin trying to figure out who killed Megan together.
The story is told with the alternate perspectives of John and Charley...
I liked Charley a lot and for me she made the story enjoyable. She was the most centered and balanced character, the one who thought fast, was smart , funny, and genuine, and provided the most interesting dialogue. John's character was so weighted down with huge issues and with such a heavy burden on his shoulders he rarely had a positive thought, made a joke, laughed, or found much to feel happy about. He was quiet and serious, and as such, despite knowing his history, and background, he was a little too unemotional, seemed to speak in a monotone, and was often stilted. He was likable enough and of course I felt bad for his situation, but do wish he had had a little more fire in his personality.
The mystery is truly twisted as morally bankrupt adults play fast and loose with the law and a young girl pays the price for their sins. John and Charley make a pretty good team and it would be fun to see them come back some day to solve more crimes.
I recommend this book for those who like an uncomplicated, character driven mystery without a lot of graphic violence or for those who enjoy a mature YA mystery with an edge to it.
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After Jon Ripslinger retired as a public high school English teacher, he began a career as an author. He has published many young adult novels and truly enjoys writing books for teens. He has also published numerous short stories in Woman's World magazine.
Jon and his wife, Collette live in Iowa. They are the proud grandparents of thirteen grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
When not working writing, Jon enjoys the outdoors, especially fishing. He waits patiently for the next "big one" to strike.
Thanks for reading the Weight of Guilt and posting a great review. All is great appreciatedReplyDelete