Book Review: PARADISE, WV by Rob Rufus

“In a poor West Virginia town decimated by the opioid epidemic, teenagers Henry and Jane have it worse than most. Their father is Harlan Lusher, a convicted serial killer known as ‘the Blind Spot Slasher.'”

HELLO! In what universe am I not going to snatch up that book to read immediately? Especially when I read further into the back-cover blurb and find the phrases “true crime podcast” and “doomsday, snake-handling cult.” Why does this book have everything I love?!

Seeing as my expectations were basically sky-high going in, it would have been REAL EASY for this book to fall short, but it did the opposite. It was even better than I expected. This small-town Appalachian serial murder mystery rocks and rolls from beginning to end, culminating in a heart-pounding conclusion that had me yelling from disbelief. Twists and turns abound! Secrets and lies pave the streets of Paradise, WV! And have I mentioned that I would DIE FOR HENRY, JANE, AND THEIR NEW PAL OTIS?

Speaking of them, I love the 80s “kids on bikes” vibe, but it’s much harder to pull it off in a 21st century story. Rob Rufus totally makes it happen here. Much like Adam Cesare’s Clown in a Cornfield is a successful modern take on the classic slasher story, Paradise, WV does the same for the Goonies/Monster Squad/Stranger Things ragtag group of small-town kids, but updated for these times. The themes of the current true crime boom, the popularity of podcasting, the opioid epidemic, and the myriad woes strangling rural America rebuild this seemingly familiar story into something poignantly contemporary.

But back to our heroes: Henry, his sister Jane, and his new best friend Otis are precious angel babies who made me laugh and tugged at my heartstrings constantly. Henry is a misfit metalhead, isolated because of a health condition and his lack of internet access. Jane is a rising-star soccer player with a bright future, but held back because of anxiety due to the trauma of watching her father tried and convicted as a serial murderer. Otis is a home-schooled genius with a penchant for speed-reading who becomes accidental friends with Henry and offers to help the siblings clear their father’s name. Henry and Jane’s grandmother, Mammaw, is a tough, loving old hippie with an adorable little dog named Gravy. Lt. Elena Garcia is the determined, badass officer who won’t quit until she’s figured out who’s really behind a new (or maybe not-so-new) string of murders in town. This cast of characters are so lovable and authentic, they really make this story special.

This is a 5-star read for me, no question: great pace, great mystery, great characters, great overall vibe. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up. It’ll thrill you, chill you, and warm your heart all at once.

BTW: Rob’s first book, the YA punk-rock cancer memoir Die Young With Me is a big favorite of mine that I would recommend to ANYONE! I haven’t read his lauded second book, The Vinyl Underground, yet (damn my towering TBR!), but I think it’s gonna skip the line soon because I need more Rob Rufus words in my life ASAP. You do, too, so go buy the books!