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Book Author: Nancy Pickard

THE SCENT OF RAIN AND LIGHTNING by Nancy Pickard: Book Review

The Scent of Rain and Lightning should put Nancy Pickard on the list of must-read mystery authors; it’s where she deserves to be.  I’ve always felt that in spite of her many awards, Ms. Pickard wasn’t a household name, and I’m hoping her latest novel will change that.

The Linder family of Rose, Kansas seem to have it all in 1986.  The parents are the wealthiest people in their county, with ranches in the adjacent states of Colorado and Nebraska, and have three sons, a daughter, her fiancee, a daughter-in-law, and a granddaughter.  They’re well-respected and liked by all the townspeople and not just because many of them owe their livelihood to the Linders.   It’s because the Linders are kind, generous people.

But terrible things happen even to good people. As the book opens, the Linders’ granddaughter is unexpectedly visited by her three uncles–her father’s two surviving brothers and her aunt’s husband.  They’ve come to tell her that the prison sentence that put her father’s killer in prison for sixty years has been commuted after twenty-three and that Billy Crosby had been freed and was returning to Rose.

Everyone in town thought that the Linders were making a mistake by taking Billy under their wing and employing him on their ranch.  But they’d done this before and had turned around the lives of several young men, and they thought they could do the same for Billy.  But on a hot and steamy day, after downing one too many beers at lunchtime, Billy viciously attacked a cow that wasn’t docile enough for him and was sent home by patriarch Hugh Linder.  Later that night the cow was attacked and killed, a gate was left open so that painstaking ranch work would have to be redone, and small fires were started.

When Billy was arrested for these crimes later that day but released the next for lack of physical evidence, the whole town knew how angry he was at the family.  So when, in the midst of a terrible rainstorm the following night, the Linders’ oldest son, Hugh-Jay, was murdered and his wife nowhere to be found, Billy was arrested again.  This time he’s brought to trial and convicted.

With masterful storytelling, Nancy Pickard goes from 1986 when the crimes took place to the present when Billy is released from prison. The story is told from different points of view–that of Jody Linder, the granddaughter; Annabelle Linder, the matriarch of the family; and Laurie Linder, the spoiled wife of Hugh-Jay who’s not above flirting with all the men in town, including her two brothers-in-law.

The end of this novel came as a complete surprise to me.  I had composed several scenarios in my mind as to how it should end, but Ms. Pickard totally blindsided me. And her ending was, of course, the right one and the only one that made sense.

The small-town feel of Rose, Kansas and its surroundings are vividly portrayed.  And Testament Rocks, the geological marvel outside the town, does more than serve as a tourist marker for the town; it has its own place in the novel.

The Scent of Rain and Lightning is one of the finest mysteries I’ve read in some time.

You can read more about Nancy Pickard at her web site.