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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

Small Town Sins

Narrator: Chris Ciulla;

Jennifer Blom; John Pirhalla

ISBN: 9781250899477

7 Hours, 51 Minutes, 56 Seconds

Publisher: Macmillan Audio

Publication Date: 08/01/2023

Format: Audiobook, e-book, hardcover

My Rating: 5 Stars ++ (ARC)

This program features multicast narration.

If you found a bag of cash in a burning building, would you take it?

“Small Town Sins” is a gripping Rust Belt thriller that captures the characters of a down-and-out Pennsylvania town, revealing their troubled pasts and the crimes that could cost them their lives.

Ken Jaworowski’s Small Town Sins is a gripping Rust Belt thriller that captures the characters of a down-and-out Pennsylvania town, revealing their troubled pasts and the crimes that could cost them their lives.

In Locksburg, Pennsylvania, a former coal and steel town whose best days seem long past, five thousand residents have toughed it out and have reasons for both worry and hope as this neglected place teeters between decay and renewal. For some of them, their biggest troubles have just arrived.

After years of just scraping by, three restless souls have their lives upended: Nathan, a volunteer fireman who uncovers a secret stash of money in a burning building and takes it; Callie, a nurse whose tender patient may not have long to live, despite the girl’s fundamentalist parents’ ardent beliefs; and Andy, a recovering heroin addict who undertakes a nightmare mission to hunt down and stop a serial predator.

Before long, Nathan’s stolen riches threaten to destroy everyone around him as he tries to cover his haphazard trail of lies. Callie risks her career to grant her young patient a final, and likely illegal, wish. And Andy’s hunger for vigilante justice becomes a fierce obsession that may end in violence.

As their stories barrel toward unexpected ends, Nathan, Callie, and Andy struggle to endure—or escape. They each face their pasts and gamble on their futures and confront the underside of their rough Rust Belt town. Riveting, evocative, and unforgettable, Small Town Sins is a debut novel that marks the arrival of a major new talent.

A Macmillan Audio production from Henry Holt & Company.

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My Review

Ken Jaworowski, a New York Times culture editor and playwright, delivers a smashing knock-out debut literary/crime thriller, SMALL TOWN SINS — Soulful, intense, lyrical, evocative, bittersweet, darkly funny, and deeply entertaining, with quirky, highly creative characters.

DAZZLING! The author has cleverly created a cast of well-developed, relatable, sympathetic characters all desperate to escape their dead-end life and past—mixed with despair, heartbreak, struggles, regrets, mistakes, heart, and humor for a highly satisfying, addictive read.

Set in the gripping Rust Belt, a town of 5K, everyone knows everyone's business in Locksburg, Pennsylvania, a former coal and steel town where everyone wants a way out of this depressing dead-end town. How do they escape their environment?

Crossing moral lines, how far will these restless and desperate souls go for greed, money, and a better life? Will they keep repeating their patterns and crimes or learn from their mistakes? There are no do-overs here.

However, be careful what you wish for, as it may be worse than what you have. This slow depressing town has never seen so much action and DANGER!

Told from alternating three POVs:


NATHAN: Nathan was trapped by a young girl years ago with blackmail. She says she is pregnant and needs money for an abortion. To dig himself out, he stole from his family, and then due to his misdeeds, the innocent people in his life died. Now years later, he still lives in this same dead-end town and meets Paula, a caring nurse, and they marry.

They built a big house and want children. No luck after 15 years and tons of money spent on specialists. Paula is always cheerful, but Nathan is negative. He thinks he has finally won the lottery and a way out of this dead-end town for a better life when he uncovers a stash of money in a burning building as a volunteer fireman. Nathan takes it and hides it at home. He thinks it is drug money, so who will miss it? His wife is totally against it and wants him to turn it over to the police, and will have nothing to do with it. The burn victim is at her hospital.

Karma comes back to bite again when the same girl who blackmailed him is back like Eve with an apple tempting like a femme fatale. He falls for her tricks again. However, in the end, this will be the worst tragedy of his life. Nothing is as it appears. The money is not what he thought, and he will lose the love of his life. Once again, tragedy due to his mistakes. (this is a good one).

ANDY: Andy was a former heroin addict, as well as his wife, Katie. They have each done bad things for drugs to escape their miserable lives. However, their lives change when Katie finds out she is pregnant, and they both quit cold turkey—no more drugs.

Their beautiful baby girl, Angie, is born with Downs Syndrome. They loved and cared for her, but one day it was too late, and they knew her heart would not last. Now Katie and Angie are gone from Andy's life. He wants to end his life to be with them, but someone stops him. From here, the detective gives him a name of a priest to help. However, the priest is a pedophile, and Andy has found a briefcase full of child porn. He is determined to take this guy down after seeing a photo of a child with Downs Syndrome, among other innocent children. However, his plan of revenge does not go the way he planned. I loved Andy, Katie, and Angie!

CALLIE: Then we come to Callie. Your heart will go out to Callie and her patient, Gabriella. Callie, a nurse, has had a tough life. She is sarcastic and funny (I love her dark humor). She has lived with disfigurement daily from a craniofacial disorder she was born with—a cleft palate and harelip with operation complications. She has no dates or life, and everyone looks at her like a freak. She liked it when everyone wore masks during the pandemic so they could not see her scars. She has little patience with whinny patients.

Her life changes when a young girl, Gabriella, is brought to the hospital by her father. She is dying, and he could have been helped, but the dad thinks religion will heal and does not give her the medicine or treatments. The doctor said to keep her father away.

Callie develops a friendship and close bond with Gabriella during her time at the hospital. She wants to see the ocean before she dies—her last wish. The parents will not now allow it. So Callie decides to kidnap her from the hospital, and they both can see the ocean simultaneously. If she gets caught, she could lose her license.

However, the trip did not go as expected. She offers someone a ride, and they steal Gabriella's medicine. From there, it is one disaster after another, with bad at every turn. However, in the process, they go to a bar to pick up something from someone offering to help, and she meets a man without an arm. He does not care about Callie's scars. They dance. Gabriella and Callie turn into partners in crime for a Thelma and Louise WILD ride road trip. I love these two!

As all their stories collide, Nathan, Callie, and Andy struggle to endure—or escape. They must face their pasts, gamble on their futures, and confront the underbelly of this depressing town. I LOVED THIS BOOK!

Ken Jaworowski is an author to watch! I loved his back story and how he came to write this story. Thank you for persevering! A HIT. I cannot wait to see what comes next! I will be anxiously awaiting. SMALL TOWN SINS checks all the boxes for me.

Fans of authors (a mix of-all favs) Dan Chaon, Fredrik Backman, David Joy, Elizabeth Berg, Joyce Maynard, Allen Eskens, William Kent Krueger, and Karen Katchur's The Greedy Three will find much to like here!

I could see a mini-TV series with these memorable, quirky characters. Creative, heartwarming, witty, and bingeworthy! I enjoyed the writing style with cliffhanger chapters, so not each story is written separately, keeping you on the edge of your seat in suspense!

The highly emotional themes and topics could be ripped from today's headlines of small rural towns—from opioid abuse, depression, suicide, religion, child abuse, pedophile priests, murder, addiction, poor neighborhoods, corruption, and more. (economic, social, moral)

AUDIOBOOK: The audiobook was fantastic! I enjoyed listening and reading; the audiobook was superb! I heard in one sitting and then re-listened again weeks later. The narrators, Chris Ciulla, Jennifer Blom, and John Pirhalla, were perfectly matched for the characters/voices. I highly recommend the audiobook.

A home run out of the gate! OK, you have figured out I loved this book. A must-read! Get this stunning literary thriller set in a rural small town, rich in character, captivating, heartfelt, and infused with dark humor on your TBR list.

Thanks to Macmillan Audio for an ALC and Henry Holt and Co. for an ARC via NetGalley for an honest opinion. I loved both so much that I purchased the hardcover copy for my home library!

@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks

My Rating: 5 Stars ++

Pub Day: Aug 1, 2023


“A deeply evocative thriller that lives at the intersection of bad decisions and bad luck, Small Town Sins is an extraordinary debut, which will have you riveted from page one.”

―Laura Dave, author of The Last Thing He Told Me

“Jaworowski is a brilliant storyteller…and a merciless one. His three main characters draw bad card after bad card. It would be a daunting world to visit if it weren’t so redeemed by the startling generosity and warmth of Jaworowski’s writing: he pulls your heartstrings till they snap. And he’s written a gripping, poignant book.”

―Scott Smith, author of A Simple Plan

“Imagine my delight at this wonderful little book, this riotous cross-section of John Irving and Jim Thompson. These characters breathe the same air other people breathe, they work jobs like real people do. An addictive read from its first page, Small Town Sins pays the reader’s attention back with love. A crime book that kept surprising me with its warmth and vigor page after page―it’s a delight, well-told and deeply felt.”

―John Darnielle, author of Devil House

“Original, bittersweet, twisting, and triumphant. Small Town Sins takes a thrilling and deeply emotive look at cause and effect, at the decisions we make and the lessons we disregard. I adored it.”

―Chris Whitaker, author of We Begin at the End

“A tour de force of lives on the edge. A page-turner that I couldn’t put down. When you think left, it hits you right; when you think it’s safe, the ice starts to crack. A seriously good noir thriller.”

―Willy Vlautin, author of Lean on Pete

“Small Town Sins is a compelling portrait of a community, told through the eyes of three desperate people whose lives go off the rails. Jaworowski has given the reader both a page-turning noir thriller and a rich, character-driven tragedy of hard lives and bad choices. A fierce and propulsive book!”

―Dan Chaon, author of Sleepwalk

“Sitting comfortably at the pinnacle of psychological thriller writing, Small Town Sins is smart, compelling and, by turns, harrowing and heartfelt. Under the author’s deft touch, the plots of the novel speed relentlessly from first page to last, through a Rust-Belt America so perfectly realized that we feel we’re there in person. And what an unforgettable trio of protagonists! Given Jaworowski’s masterful stylistic voice, you will hardly believe this is a debut novel. Bravo!”

―Jeffery Deaver, author of The Bone Collector and Hunting Time

“Small Town Sins is full of surprises and moves like a bullet train. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. Fans of A Simple Plan and other rural noirs are sure to savor this dark and twisted thriller. I’m excited to read whatever Ken Jaworowski writes next.”

―Jason Rekulak, author of Hidden Pictures

“A stunning novel. Think Peter Dexter blended with James Sallis. It is that good and beautifully written. The sort of novel where you want to underline whole passages. I’m going to be pressing this book on those I care about. It restored my joy in the mystery genre.”

―Ken Bruen, author of The Guards

“A compulsively readable first novel that offers a very quirky look at downtrodden suburban life. Sad, seedy, horrific, humorous, and hopeful, this book is a tremendous debut.”

―Fabian Nicieza, co-creator of Deadpool and author of The Self-Made Widow

About the Author

Ken Jaworowski is an editor at the New York Times. He graduated from Shippensburg University and the University of Pennsylvania. He grew up in Philadelphia, where he was an amateur boxer, and his plays have been produced in New York and Europe. He lives in New Jersey with his family. Small Town Sins is his first novel.







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