Welcome to Cottonwood, California.
Until last month, I had never heard of Cottonwood.
That’s no offense to the good people of the town of about 3,300, located in Shasta County in the northern part of California.
I’m from a small town, and doubt many people have heard of my hometown of Charleston, Missouri. Or the nearby towns of Bertrand, East Prairie, or Wyatt in Southeast Missouri, nicknamed The Bootheel.
For history buffs, Cottonwood was a stagecoach town with a settlement established in 1849. The first post office opened in 1852.
In 1997 the movie Almost Heroes was filmed there. The movie starred Matthew Perry and Chris Farley; it was Farley’s last film.
And now Cotttonwood, California, makes an appearance in two excellent mystery novels—The Quiet Child by John Burley and Y Is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton.
Burley sets The Quiet Child in 1954, and Cottonwood becomes a metaphor for fear.
Here, the residents of Cottonwood are uncomfortable in the presence of six-year-old Danny McCray, who has “elective mutism.” He doesn’t speak, ever, and the townspeople blame Danny for the town’s economic decline and any of the residents’ suffering. To them, Danny is “a ghost child, a quiet child the townspeople referred only to in whispers.”
Then Danny is kidnapped along with his ten-year-old brother, Sean, who is the only person who seems to truly love Danny. The kidnapping—and the search—launches the tight, gripping plot of The Quiet Child. People care about Sean but few want Danny found.
Burley keeps the suspense high and the story realistic as he looks at family relationships, unconditional love, and fear in The Quiet Child.
Kinsey Millhone makes a trek to Cottonwood, during the course of an investigation in Sue Grafton’s Y Is for Yesterday.
Kinsey remembers as a child reading about naturally occurring asphalt that was discovered near Cottonwood. It is a memory of Kinsey’s childhood as she read about it in an old encyclopedia that her Aunt Gin had bought.
Y Is for Yesterday is, of course, the second to last Kinsey novel that Grafton has planned. Regardless of the plot, many of us look forward to each Grafton novel because we just want to know what Kinsey’s been up to.
And Grafton is ending her series on a high note with the outstanding Y Is for Yesterday.