Calling The Cove a thriller may be cheating. It's a book that could be a literary novel or a mystery or a thriller...or maybe it's all three. The prologue—one of the most vivid, gripping passages of writing of 2012—kicks off when a Tennessee Valley Authority official heads for an unsettled place in the Appalachian mountains that locals call only "The Cove." What he finds is an abandoned cabin, "a stand of dead chestnuts, their limbs broken off, massive trunk cracked as though a plague of lightening had swept through," and...drumroll, please...a skull at the bottom of a well. Whom that skull belongs to should be the primary concern of the rest of the book, as the story flashes back to just after World War II, when young lonely disfigured girl named Laurel lived in The Cove. But all thoughts of the skull and its identity get immediately forgotten, and instead, the romance of Laurel and a mute flute player bewitch you through the rest of the book—flooding you with all the yearning and delight and vulnerability of first loves, as well as the fear that this love will be driven off due to small town politics and ignorance. The skull comes back—of course, skulls do—leading to a conclusion that, more than thrills, surprises and devastates.