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by Sandra Parshall
Poisoned Pen, March 2014
287 pages
ISBN: 1464202249

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Even though there are several murders in this book, and townspeople are worried about whether their choices regarding selling their land to the big business resort developer will add them to the list of victims, the overall atmosphere of the book is more comfortable and cozy than frightening. Rachel Goddard, a veterinarian and newcomer to this rural Virginia mountain town, is married to Sheriff Tom Bridger, who grew up in town. As shots ring out at the start of the book, Rachel and Tom find that an elderly couple opposing the developers have been shot and killed in their back yard.

The investigation goes in two directions, with occasional mis-communication or lack of communication between Rachel and Tom resulting in suspense. Folks from both sides of the controversy resent being questioned as an additional murder, this time of one of the pro-development landowners, takes place. Tensions rise, protests take place, property is damaged, and the murder seems no closer to being uncovered.

A strength of the book is characterization, as we get to know the quirky small town residents. Three spinster sisters live together with many pets in the house left to them by their father after their sister committed suicide and their father died in a farming accident. Rachel's best friend…well, at least before recent events raised suspicions and drove a wedge into their friendship…is a tough single woman with a large and prosperous horse farm. The son of the murdered couple is money-hungry while his sister inherits control of the family farm. The land-grabbing developer is sufficiently smarmy, and there is a local Lothario. While each of these characters is a bit of a caricature, there is enough detail and connection among them and to the mystery that they seem real.

There is definitely action in the book, as various characters are threatened and harmed. However, the plot is not driven forward through the actions but rather through discussion. Tom circulates through town, talking to everyone and explaining his theories to his deputy. Rachel visits the various members of the community and, again, talks. The explication in the book is primarily through this constant chatter, with even the action being explained rather than experienced. For me, this was this biggest fault of the book. It seemed to be all talk, talk, talk, and this distanced me from the plot and made me care less about the resolution (which was eventually explained as the characters talked to one another).

This was a light read, and it well represented the inward-turned aspects of a small town. It's the sixth in the Rachel Goddard/Tom Bridger series, but the first I've read. This book will appeal to those who love the interpersonal dynamics in a small town and how they can go terribly wrong.

§ Sharon Mensing is the Head of School of Emerald Mountain School, an independent school in the mountains of Colorado, where she lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, April 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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