Author Gretchen Waters made a name for herself with her bestseller Tammyland—a memoir about her divorce and her admiration for country music icons Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, and Dolly Parton that was praised as a "honky-tonk Eat, Pray, Love." But her writing career is cut abruptly short when she dies from a fall down a set of stone library steps. It is a tragic accident and no one suspects foul play, certainly not Gretchen's best friend from college, Jamie, who's been named the late author's literary executor.
But there's an unfinished manuscript Gretchen left behind that is much darker than Tammyland: a book ostensibly about male country musicians yet centered on a murder in Gretchen's family that haunted her childhood. In its pages, Gretchen seems to be speaking to Jamie from beyond the grave—suggesting her death was no accident . . . and that Jamie must piece together the story someone would kill to keep untold.
~from back cover
Fictitious author Gretchen Waters shoots to literary stardom with her roadtrip-memoir Tammyland, which pays homage to her favorite female country singers, sharing stories of how their songs shaped different points of her life. While working on her second book, another memoir style focusing more on her family's personal secrets (while tying in her favorite male country music stars this time), Waters takes a tumble down a flight of library steps. She's instantly killed.
Gretchen's somewhat estranged college bestie, Jamie, is called in by the family to act as Gretchen's "literary executor", as they call it. The idea is for Jamie to take Gretchen's notes and other papers to finish the second book's manuscript. While Jamie does start out with this project in mind, when she hears that there's question marks around the nature of Gretchen's death, writing gets set aside for investigating if and possibly why Gretchen's death might not have been an accident.
Not sure if it's my fault for misinterpreting it or a misleading choice of wording on the book jacket to blame, but I read the line "Gretchen seems to be speaking to Jamie from beyond the grave" in the synopsis and got the idea that this would have some kind of paranormal aspect to it... which is why I decided to try it. Nope, not a bit of paranormal anything at all. Not that that's a deal-breaker for me, I would have been just as happy with a tight, tense thriller but I didn't even get that much! Nope, this thing was just one slow-paced downer right to the end.
At times I felt like this story couldn't make up its mind what it wanted to be. The plot wants to incorporate the stories around classic country stars like Tammy Wynette and Waylon Jennings, yet that whole "seedier side of the country music scene" is barely a blip in the plotline. What was also frustrating was the way this novel was laid out as a sort of story-on-top-of-story. The reader is brought in on what happened to Gretchen and what led up to that day but then they also have to read pages-long excerpts of this fictional book Tammyland that Gretchen wrote.
The problem is a lot of these excerpts are long portions of Gretchen yammering on about stuff that mostly doesn't play all that huge a role in the story. I think this type of story would have worked better within a unique-format layout -- you know, where maybe the sections of Gretchen's book are blocked off in journal-looking pages or something. That type of format would have also been helpful with the tape recording transcription sections. The way it's put together here instead makes all these different storylines feel like one muddled run-on mess, making me feel like I was being forced to read two books simultaneously.
Also problematic was that the storyline just wasn't all that for me. There was no thriller vibe to keep me turning pages. There was some mystery but for the most part it was just a really depressing family drama where everyone is just SO miserable... about everything!
I will give some points for the mention of The Donut Friar in Gatlinburg, TN -- a most excellent donut shop I've frequented many times! :-)