Local author’s latest murder mystery has a personal twist
Alzheimer’s disease is like riding a roller coaster in the dark, says Henderson County author Leanna Sain.
Known in the literary world for her delicate coupling of romance and horror, Sain, in her latest novel, Hush, explores the harrowing realities of mortality. The story follows chef Lacey Campbell and detective Ford Jamison through a breathless murder investigation on Amelia Island, Florida. The killings are brutal — fingers are described closing tighter and tighter around a “warm, malleable neck” — but it’s the slow attrition of Eve, Lacey’s mother, that truly haunts readers.
“When I started writing this book, my own mother was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s,” says Sain, who lost her mother to the disease in June 2018. “I didn’t know how to handle the emotions — sadness, anger, confusion.”
Eve is a reflection, if not a mirror image, of Sain’s mother. A retired teacher, she once volunteered at a Christian school, traveling classroom to classroom with books in tow. The children called her the “reading lady,” and looked forward to her expressive renditions of Tom Sawyer and Goodnight Moon. But her lucid moments quickly became more infrequent, and the act of reading more challenging.
“All that stopped when she was diagnosed with the terrible disease intent on stealing her memories… who she was,” Sain writes in the book’s prologue. “Mom couldn’t remember where she lived most of the time, but she remembered reading to those children.”
Though imaginary, Lacey walked Sain through the shadowy ups and downs of Alzheimer’s. “I never knew what was next; I never knew what to brace myself for,” she says. “But Lacey was there.”
Fiction made the disease more palatable. There is even some comedic relief —Eve hiding her hearing aids, live-in-nurse Bonnie’s caviling quips about Lacey’s haggard appearance, an overbearing boss at Black Pearl Bistro. But it’s Sain’s flawless delivery of a gritty murder mystery that pulls readers through the heartbreak.
The novel’s title owes itself to the eerie lullaby “Hush, Little Baby,” which the faceless killer trills as the life fades from his victims. Unbeknownst to many, Lacey is a clairvoyant of sorts and dreams these gruesome scenes well before they actually occur.
“The nightmare continued even though I was awake,” Lacey narrates. “Scenes flashed in my head like a slide show: a tree crowded with birdhouses, a rust-speckled cherub, a stained pillow with a bird’s profile printed on its surface, a weathered iron gate…”
However out of context, these details lay the groundwork for a state-level investigation that finally crescendos in a moment of Eve’s lucidity. “Lacey’s mother becomes coherent enough to save her,” the author says, careful not to overshare.
In reality, Alzheimer’s offers few opportunities for heroism — watching someone you love disappear is a nightmare, says Sain. She can only hope Hush will shine a light on the disease that stole
Leanna Sain will speak at the Rotary Club of Hendersonville (715 North Church St.) on Tuesday, March 10, at 12pm. Half of the book’s royalties will be donated to Alzheimer’s research. For more information about the author, including other upcoming appearances, see leannasain.com.