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Billy Goat Hill

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It's 1958 in a rough Los Angeles neighborhood, and eight-year-old Wade Parker and his six-year-old brother Luke are coming to terms with the sudden death of their infant brother and the unraveling of their family. When the boys are having an adventure one day at a nearby pond, they accidentally become involved in a murder, which haunts them for years to come. Morris's debut novel (which he previously self-published under the title The King of Billy Goat Hill) is full of promise, despite a few rough patches, especially the unnecessary epilogue and some dialogue that can be florid. (One early scene has a character snapping philosophically during a fight sequence that fear "seizes you like some kind of two-part poison! A frigid-hot fever makes you shiver and sweat and makes your brain skip like a broken record stuck between conflicting impulses to hide or jettison all cargo and flee!") The novel's Christian content sometimes feels tacked on and didactic, rather than emerging naturally from the story. But the book also offers exceptional characterizations, especially of the two boys, the kind but haunted police officer who befriends them and his beautiful but equally troubled fiancée. Morris knows how to pen fine narration, and the story flows well, despite pacing that drags a bit in the middle; he also demonstrates keen perception of human nature. The final third of the novel picks up the story in Wade's adulthood, as he struggles with guilt and alcoholism and makes the painful transition from boy to man. In an inspiring and well-executed ending, he discovers forgiveness, love and a new spiritual understanding.
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