Thu 30 Sep 2010
Reviews by L. J. Roberts
NANCY PICKARD – The Scent of Rain and Lightning. Ballantine, hardcover, May 2010. Trade paperback: February 2011.
Genre: Mystery. Leading character: Jody Linder; standalone. Setting: Kansas.
First Sentence: Until she was twenty-six, Jody Linder felt suspicious of happiness.
In 1986, ranch hand Billy Crosby was known for being resentful, a drunk, and an abuser. Fired from working on the Linder family ranch, he was accused of killing a cow and tearing down fences, but the charges didn’t stick.
Fearing retribution, 3-year-old Jody Lindner was taken from her parent’s home in town to spend the night at her grandparent’s ranch farmhouse. The next morning, her father was found murdered and her mother missing, with only her blood-stained dress found in Billy’s truck.
Now, after serving 23 years on circumstantial evidence, Billy’s sentence has been commuted and he is returning to town. Jody learns that not everyone, including his son, thought Billy was guilty. The past isn’t always past.
Ms. Pickard has a great voice. She draws you in from the first sentence and captivates you to the very last sentence. She brilliantly conveys the aftermath of murder and its impact on the lives of both the families of the victim and the accused.
Yet even in tragedy, there is humor. When Jody’s grandmother realizes Jody is afraid of God because of the prayer “…if I should die before I wake…” and mentally tells God, “…You ought to be ashamed of yourself.” She heard a deep voice in her mind retort: “I never told anybody to say that stupid prayer.”
Pickard’s skills with dialogue and story balance are only two aspects of her talent. Other areas in which she shines are character and sense of place. Her characters are alive, nuanced and real in that they are not all or always likable. The family is tight-knit but not perfect; the townspeople are representative of any small town.
I felt connected to the principal characters and appreciated seeing them grow and change over time. The depiction of ranch life, the small towns around them, the impact of weather on the life and livelihood of both is so well done.
This is a beautifully written book and a very good mystery with excellent twists and escalating tension. While it didn’t have quite the “wow” factor of The Virgin of Small Plains, it is powerful, effective and affecting. I highly recommend reading it.
Rating: Very Good Plus.