Thursday, May 08, 2008

Recommended mystery

A few days ago I finished The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard. It was a Christmas gift (yeah I know) that I finally got around to reading—my glossy magazine habit has seriously eaten into my literature time—and absolutely loved it. It’s a mystery that takes place present-day in a small town in Kansas. It has a lot of elements I love: an old, unexplained murder; well-drawn cast of small-town characters; romance; suspense; weather-related disasters (two!); generational sins-of-the-fathers-type secrets; an elegantly drawn, utterly engrossing atmosphere.

In a nutshell, here’s the story: the bloody body of an unidentified young woman is found in the snow during a blizzard 17 years before the novel’s events take place. The small town rallied and buried her, but her death marked the beginning of a web of secrets and lies that quietly ripped apart three of the town’s most prominent families. The years pass, and a legend grows around the woman’s grave. Visitors and townspeople claim “the virgin” can heal and provide miracles to those who visit her. With the return of Mitch Newquist, who left town mysteriously the night the girl died and hasn’t been seen since, main character Abby begins investigating what exactly happed so long ago on a night that ruined her hopes and dreams for the future.

The atmosphere and the people reminded me a bit of Margaret Maron’s mysteries. You feel like you know everyone by the end of the book and the small-town values and mores are both a blessing and a curse for the residents living there. The story’s suspense will keep you turning pages and guessing as Pickard reveals what really happened bit by bit. There are a couple of sideline plots that seem extraneous at times, placed there to up the danger. Usually, I’m all for adding danger to a mystery, particularly in the final scenes, but these felt out of place.

All the same, I couldn’t put the book down and finished it in just a few days. It’s solid and it’s memorable and completely entertaining.

1 comment:

shannon said...

Hey, I'm so glad you found my blog! Now we can be blogger buddies. ;) I had a great time Thursday, can't wait to see you at the next one!