Book Review: Trails in the Sand by P.C. Zick


Trails in the Sand by P.C. Zick is a novel about family set against the backdrop of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the Upper Big Branch mining tragedy in West Virginia, both incidents from 2010. In some families, unless the right protocols are followed, an accident is just a misstep away.

Caroline Carlisle is a 45 year-old freelance environmental writer who had given up on looking for love until her sister Amy passes away, and her husband Simon, the love of Caroline’s life when she was a teenager, realizes he married the wrong sister. But in the Carlisle family nothing goes unnoticed. Caroline’s nosy aunts and Simon’s brooding daughter object to Caroline and Simon getting married, so nothing is easy for the new couple. And the family’s penchant for keeping secrets is a logjam to Caroline knowing the truth about her late mother.

When the twin energy-related tragedies grab the attention of the nation, Caroline is called upon to report on the saving of a large number of endangered turtles, and attorney Simon helps his family in West Virginia seek recompense from the mining company for the loss of a loved one. But it is the deep secrets they uncover about their families that drive this story, and compel the reader to keep flipping pages.

One thing I really liked about this 400-page novel is the sense of being there where the action is. From making contacts with the Associated Press to the bureaucracy of state wildlife departments, Zick brings the reader into this complex world and makes these interactions seem very natural.

But since this story is really about skeletons in family closets, I also have to say that Zick dives deep into the inner workings of a proud southern family and digs up enough dirt to bury a mansion.

One thing that didn’t work for me is the tactic Zick uses of switching points of view from chapter to chapter. Even though she starts most chapters by telling the reader whose point of view is up next, it was still confusing at times. She also switches from first person to third person and back multiple times, which was distracting for me.

Still, this story will keep you guessing what really happened as Caroline follows the turtles from nest to sea, and turns over a few rocks on the way.