This is a book with a terrific plot ... in a small town in Georgia young girls start to disappear and then are found brutally raped and murdered. No one knows who the killer is and the authorities seem to have no suspects.
Jospeh Vaughan is a young man growing up in the midst of these killings. His father has just died and the first world war has broken out in Europe. He is struggling to come to terms with death as he sees it all around him. The murders of the girls affect him deeply and he is encouraged by his school teacher to write about his experiences. He calls together a group of friends to become 'Guardians' who vow to look out for and protect all the little girls in the area.
The murders remain unsolved, although we know from the beginning of the novel that at some stage - many years after the first killings occurred - Joseph realises who is responsible for the killings. Interspersing the main story chapters are mini-chapters which gradually outline Joseph's eventual confrontation with the killer.
Ellory is a great storyteller. He sets the scene for this novel perfectly - you're there in Georgia at the outbreak of the first world war, you can see the schoolroom where Joseph learns his lessons, you feel the anguish of the people of the town as little girls are taken and killed and no one knows who is doing it. For the first 200 pages I could hardly bear to put the book down.
HOWEVER ... [I'm keeping details vague here so I don't spoil the story for anyone who hasn't read the book yet ...]
After the first half of the book, you start feeling it's never going to end. There's so much repetition that you begin to skim over lines. I didn't get the whole 'Guardians' thing ... it seemed to me like a contrived attempt to make the novel into a 'Stand by Me' kind of story. I don't think that the 'Guardians' group was ever sufficiently established to justify why Joseph kept returning to it in his head years later.
One of the plot twists - what happens in New York - seemed bizarre to me. Why would the killer have done that? It wasn't in keeping with the rest of the story at all and in my opinion was a real weak point.
Although I did enjoy this novel it's never good to find yourself thinking 'get on with it now ... I'm getting bored' and I found myself thinking that a few too many times. Ellory just tries to keep you hanging on and guessing and it irritated me.
I've given this book a rating of 3 stars, but I think 3.5 would be fairer. It's better than an average read, but in my view the story is just too contrived to make it worth a 4.