The Gone Dead

The Gone Dead

An electrifying first novel from “a riveting new voice in American fiction” (George Saunders): A young woman returns to her childhood home in the American South and uncovers secrets about her father’s life and deathBillie James’s inheritance isn’t much: a little money and a shack in the Mississippi Delta. The house once belonged to her father, a renowned black poet who...

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Title:The Gone Dead
Author:Chanelle Benz
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Gone Dead Reviews

  • Ann Marie (Lit·Wit·Wine·Dine)

    Full review to follow.

  • Taryn Pierson

    Read the whole thing in a day because I couldn't put it down. This is a literary mystery set in Mississippi about a woman who returns to her father's hometown to find out the truth about his death. Officially it was ruled an accident, but the reaction of locals (including her own family members) as she investigates makes it clear there's more to the story. I was totally sucked in--so atmospheric, I could practically feel the sticky heat of the South as I read.

  • Faith

    In 2002 when Billie inherits the house in which her father Clifton died 30 years before, she returns to Mississippi and discovers that his death had not been as straight forward as it appeared. Clifton had been a well known black poet and was divorced from his white wife Pia. Billie was 4 when her father died. I enjoyed the dialogue and the characters, particularly Billie, her uncle Dee and her father’s girlfriend Carlotta. I also admired Billie’s dogged determination to get to the truth. It

    In 2002 when Billie inherits the house in which her father Clifton died 30 years before, she returns to Mississippi and discovers that his death had not been as straight forward as it appeared. Clifton had been a well known black poet and was divorced from his white wife Pia. Billie was 4 when her father died. I enjoyed the dialogue and the characters, particularly Billie, her uncle Dee and her father’s girlfriend Carlotta. I also admired Billie’s dogged determination to get to the truth. It felt realistic and I was glad that the ending left loose ends. I wasn’t that crazy about the fact that the story was told in first person present tense from the points of view of 8 different characters. It made the writing feel kind of clunky. Nevertheless, I would be interested in reading more by this author. The narration by Bahni Turpin of the audio book was very good.

    I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

  • Jessica Woodbury

    The Southern mystery with a strong sense of place is not a new genre, but it is a mostly white one. It's wonderful to see Chanelle Benz join the field with THE GONE DEAD, which feels like it belongs with other Mississippi-set modern work from writers like Jesmyn Ward and Kiese Laymon. Most would probably classify this as a "literary" crime novel, it has a slow pace and no big payoff, but once you get past the first few chapters it's quite addictive.

    Billie James had an unusual childhood, taken

    The Southern mystery with a strong sense of place is not a new genre, but it is a mostly white one. It's wonderful to see Chanelle Benz join the field with THE GONE DEAD, which feels like it belongs with other Mississippi-set modern work from writers like Jesmyn Ward and Kiese Laymon. Most would probably classify this as a "literary" crime novel, it has a slow pace and no big payoff, but once you get past the first few chapters it's quite addictive.

    Billie James had an unusual childhood, taken from place to place by her white mother. Her black father was a poet who died when Billie was a toddler, after her parents had already split up. After her mother's death, Billie finds herself the newest owner of her father's old "house" in Mississippi. She decides to take a break from her life in Philadelphia to move in and get to know the place. But early on she learns that her father's past there is full of questions she didn't know existed. His death, it turns out, was under suspicious circumstances no one will talk about. And soon Billie hears that she herself was there when it happened and was missing for a time.

    The novel grows as it expands into a multiple point-of-view story, with both insiders and outsiders, black and white, taking their part in Billie's search for the truth. I enjoyed the ability of the book (and the always-fabulous audiobook reader Bahni Turpin!) to present a variety of voices that felt very distinct, quite rare for a first novel. The climax is rushed and it feels as though several threads are left hanging, but I loved the sense of place and history Benz brought to the story and I'd love to see more from her and more crime novels like this one.

  • Diane S ☔

    A debut novel of history and family in the Mississippi delta. Billie, her father found dead in what was called an accident when she was four, returns to the Delta in what she hopes is a short visit. Her mother recently gone as well, she wants to see, what is basically little more than a shack and to visit her uncle, her father's much young brother. She finds more than she expected and finds herself the target of those who do not want the truth of her father's death to be revealed.

    I'm not a big

    A debut novel of history and family in the Mississippi delta. Billie, her father found dead in what was called an accident when she was four, returns to the Delta in what she hopes is a short visit. Her mother recently gone as well, she wants to see, what is basically little more than a shack and to visit her uncle, her father's much young brother. She finds more than she expected and finds herself the target of those who do not want the truth of her father's death to be revealed.

    I'm not a big fan of stories that use multiple viewpoints within, often feeling that characterization is lost. Here though it works, Billie our main narrator, but also others that fill in the blanks from what she was too young to remember. The Delta is portrayed with depth and authenticity, firmly entrenching this story in time and place. A time of racial injustice and when recurring racism was the norm.

    The dialogue is another strong point, fitting each character with admirable efficiency. As each layer is peeled away, new revelations are revealed, the danger Billie is in heightens. This is, in my opinion, a wonderful first effort by a talented new writer.

    ARC from Netgalley.

  • Kelli

    I spent one long, hot summer in the Mississippi Delta back in the mid-Eighties. My Boston accent and northern roots made it impossible for me to blend in, and the fact that it was less than twenty years after the assassination of Martin Luther King was completely lost on me at the time. I was young and idealistic, and I couldn’t see or understand the ugliness where I lived or where I visited to that point in my life. While I met many lovely people and became enamored with their Southern

    I spent one long, hot summer in the Mississippi Delta back in the mid-Eighties. My Boston accent and northern roots made it impossible for me to blend in, and the fact that it was less than twenty years after the assassination of Martin Luther King was completely lost on me at the time. I was young and idealistic, and I couldn’t see or understand the ugliness where I lived or where I visited to that point in my life. While I met many lovely people and became enamored with their Southern hospitality, their gorgeous accents, the strong sense of family, and the beyond delicious food, I also saw and heard things that bring me goosebumps to this day. A sense of foreboding was my constant companion that summer.

    That sense of foreboding is this book. The “mystery” feels like a jumping off point to get to the root of very serious issues. The characterization is believable with outstanding narration by Bahni Turpin that brings each character to life in a way that I’m not sure my own brain could have done had I read this. Atmospheric and sad, this debut is important in so many ways.

    4 stars

  • Linda

    C'mon now.....

    The Gone Dead takes you by the hand and slow walks you through the uneven roads of the Mississippi Delta. At first, you feel a distant beckoning and the weight of the humid air bogging down on you as you near the swampy creeks. And then comes the rapid motion of that yank on your torso as you find yourself diving right in.

    Billie James has not been back for over thirty years. She had left her past life in Mississippi and went on to live with her mother since she was four. Like

    C'mon now.....

    The Gone Dead takes you by the hand and slow walks you through the uneven roads of the Mississippi Delta. At first, you feel a distant beckoning and the weight of the humid air bogging down on you as you near the swampy creeks. And then comes the rapid motion of that yank on your torso as you find yourself diving right in.

    Billie James has not been back for over thirty years. She had left her past life in Mississippi and went on to live with her mother since she was four. Like nomads, they traveled from city to city trying to get a foothold from beyond the South. After her mother died, Philadelphia became her home.

    But she's got some settlin' to do as she's inherited her African American poet-father's ramshackled cabin in Greendale. Chanelle Benz creates the first footprints into her story with Billie stretching her aching bones from miles and miles on the road. The car door slams after her dog, Rufus, runs in mad circles around this new land with the joy of escaping roadway confinement. It's here that we come to know Billie's wariness in contrast to Rufus' wild abandonment.

    Family tales sit lightly in the air with fragments missing and pieces that just don't quite fit. Billie was told that her father's death was an accident.....an injury to the head when falling one night. But Billie has some heavy-duty doubts that have constantly plagued her. Temporary is now becoming longer term as Billie comes upon a wayward chapter of an upcoming book that her father had been writing before his death. She contacts a professor who had been highly interested in her father's writings. Together, they will sift through unexpected clues that desire to be long buried.

    Chanelle Benz has a masterful touch with her characterizations in The Gone Dead. And there's quite a multitude of them.....but each is fine-tuned and chiseled as intricate parts of an elaborate story frame. The dialogue is buttery in one moment and then starkly threatening in the next. Benz lets you sidle up alongside each one noting their inner thoughts and personal intricacies. Pay attention to their forthcomings and also to their ademant denials. They all fit exactly into this sticky web of time and place.

    I'm impressed with this debut novel by Benz and look forward to future offerings. Hopefully, she'll treat us to some more of this splendid southern grit.

  • Kyra Leseberg (Roots & Reads)

    Billie James returns to the Mississippi Delta after a thirty year absence. After her mother's recent death, she's inherited her father's old home that has set vacant for so long it's little more than a shack. All that Billie knows is that when she was four years old her father Cliff was found dead in his front yard. The police claim Cliff was intoxicated and died from a fall. In 1970's Mississippi, that was as far as the investigation into a black man's death would go.

    Billie has taken a short

    Billie James returns to the Mississippi Delta after a thirty year absence.  After her mother's recent death, she's inherited her father's old home that has set vacant for so long it's little more than a shack.  All that Billie knows is that when she was four years old her father Cliff was found dead in his front yard.  The police claim Cliff was intoxicated and died from a fall.  In 1970's Mississippi, that was as far as the investigation into a black man's death would go.

    Billie has taken a short leave from work in Philadelphia to try to fix up the old house and reconnect with her past, especially her father's family.  

    When she meets Jerry Hopsen, a man who knew her father, the conversation eventually turns to Cliff's death and Jerry mentions Billie's disappearance that night.

    This news come as a complete surprise to Billie, who had no idea she was with her father on the night he died, let alone that she was missing for a time.  

    How long exactly was she missing?  Where was she and who was she with during that time?  No one seems willing to answer these questions, including her Uncle Dee, who waves it off as a simple misunderstanding.

    When Billie finds what appears to be one chapter out of a full manuscript of her father's, she calls in a scholar who has been researching Cliff's life for a biography to help her investigate.

    Searching for the rest of the manuscript and asking questions about Cliff's death stirs unrest in a small town that would rather forget the past and Billie finds the closer she gets to the truth, the more danger she is in.

    is a combination of literary fiction and mystery.  It covers the effects of racism in past and present, family secrets, and the motivations for both seeking truth and letting the past stay buried through the narration of several characters.

    The story was a slow burn that builds up a few plot points but the climax felt rushed, making the storytelling uneven and unfocused at times.  That said, it was still an intriguing read.

    Thanks to Ecco and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review.  

    is scheduled for release on June 25, 2019.

    For more reviews, visit

  • ☮Karen

    3.5 stars.

    I thought this started out strong with an intriguing hook. When Billie travels to her birthplace in rural Mississippi, where she's inherited her grandmother's house, she learns that the night her father died, she herself was reported missing, a time that she has no recollection of at all. Can you imagine learning such a thing and how you'd react?

    The more questions she asks, the more she needs to find out. People are getting upset with her, blacks and whites both, and she might

    3.5 stars.

    I thought this started out strong with an intriguing hook. When Billie travels to her birthplace in rural Mississippi, where she's inherited her grandmother's house, she learns that the night her father died, she herself was reported missing, a time that she has no recollection of at all. Can you imagine learning such a thing and how you'd react?

    The more questions she asks, the more she needs to find out. People are getting upset with her, blacks and whites both, and she might actually be in danger. It also seems that her father, a black poet, may not have died accidentally, and the authorities appear to be covering up something.

    There's a lot going on, so many questions, and you might enjoy it if you are OK with questions not being 100% answered. I think I figured out most of them, but still felt the ending lacked something. A good snapshot of racism in the 60s and 70s, and a reminder that it is still alive and thriving.

  • Jerrie (redwritinghood)

    Just ok. I felt there were too many extraneous characters and the plot was not very original. 2.5

    Just ok. I felt there were too many extraneous characters and the plot was not very original. 2.5⭐️

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